ALAMEDA – Raiders rookie running back Josh Jacobs had 23 carries in his NFL debut. That’s more than he took in a single game during three full seasons at the University of Alabama.
Jacobs took a ton as a prep star in Tulsa, Okla., but he consistently shared work while with the Crimson Tide. It was good enough to get him noticed and make him the top rusher taken in this year’s NFL draft as a powerful runner with limited wear on his tires.
His camp turned that into a positive, saying he hadn’t absorbed many hits as a collegian. Another side of that argument: There’s no proof Jacobs can be a feature back.
That’s expected of someone drafted so high, and has been the lone question mark surrounding this top talent.
Jacobs has great vision and slashing ability, a tough runner with surprising breakaway speed. Those traits were evident during Monday night’s victory over Denver when he had 85 yards and two touchdowns on his 23 carries along with a 28-yard catch. As impressive as the totals were for an NFL debut, Jacobs got better as the game progressed. He had 38 yards on 12 first-half carries, and 47 yards on 11 second-half rushes, plus his big play in the passing game.
Jacobs did all that in perfect health after the Raiders put him on ice save four preseason carries.
The real question, as it has always been, is whether Jacobs can do that over and over again.
“I’m anxious to see how he feels today after 24 touches,” head coach Jon Gruden said Tuesday, “because we’d like to get him 24 more next week.”
Well, Wednesday rolled around and Jacobs looked no worse for the wear.
“You know what’s really great? He’s out there and took every rep today, and that’s a great sign,” Gruden said. “He’s sore, I’m sure, but I think it sends a message to your teammates when you can come out there after carrying the ball 24-25 times and practice and practice the way that he did. It was really pretty good to see.”
Jacobs will have time to rest, recover and get ready for Sunday’s clash with Kansas City. He’ll be ready for another extensive workload, which generally means the score is close or the Raiders are ahead if they’re running that much with one guy.
Jacobs didn’t think about Wednesday’s practice as a statement. It was just part of his new job.
“I don’t feel as bad as I thought I would,” Jacobs said. “It was just something to show durability I guess – that I can take 20 carries a game and still come out and be [a full participant].”
He isn’t just taking lots of carries. Jacobs is efficient, and he stands as the first rookie to total 100-plus yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns in his NFL debut since LaDainian Tomlinson did it in 2002.
Jacobs understands that his goal isn’t performing well over 23 carries. It’s about doing that in 16 straight times over the course of the regular season. Jacobs is staying in the moment, not focused on big pictures or his journey to a feature back’s role.
“I don’t think about it too much,” Jacobs said. “I just go out there and do what I can and mentally prepare to put myself into the best position possible to play well. That’s the only thing that’s really on my mind each week.”