(Eds: Updates with reaction, details. With AP Photos.)By JOSH DUBOWAP Sports Writer
When the Oakland Raiders lost Darren McFadden and his breakaway speed to a foot injury, it didn’t exactly slow down their offense.
That’s because they have a more-than-capable backup in the bruising Michael Bush. While Bush may be more apt to run over defenders that sprint by them, he has been almost as effective as McFadden and is a big reason why the Raiders (5-4) are in first place in the AFC West.
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”That guy is talented enough to be a starting back anywhere in the league,” offensive lineman Stefen Wisniewski said. ”He just happens to be playing with one of the best backs in the league and he’s a second back. But we have a lot of confidence in him and we have no reason to change our game plan. With Darren out, we feel like we can still run the ball.”
McFadden sprained his right foot in the first quarter against Kansas City on Oct. 23. He has not practiced since then but did make it out to the field to watch practice for the first time since the injury Wednesday.
”I saw Darren McFadden without a boot, standing out here with his teammates today for the first time in a long time,” coach Hue Jackson said. ”So to me, that’s huge progress.’
But it’s probably not enough to get him back on the field to play Sunday at Minnesota (2-7), meaning Bush is in line to start again.
Bush got off to a slow start this season as he got limited chances with McFadden off to such a strong start. Bush had 43 carries in Oakland’s first six games for just 138 yards and a 3.2 average per carry.
But as soon as McFadden sprained his foot in the first quarter against the Chiefs, Bush stepped up his game. He has 66 carries the past three games for 352 yards and a 5.3 average. He has also made a big contribution in the passing game with seven catches for 130 yards and a touchdown.
”It’s cool getting the ball but it’s what I’m supposed to do,” Bush said. ”Running the ball, like I told the coach, `Just feed the stud.’ I told him that last week. Give me the ball and let’s see what we can do.”
His best performance came against San Diego last week when he ran for 157 yards and caught three passes for 85 yards for the most productive day from scrimmage for a Raiders player since 1963.
”Michael Bush is one really fine football player in this league also,” Jackson said. ”There’s a lot of teams that would love to have him but he’s ours. He plays for the Raiders and he’s done a fantastic job. He’s up to the challenge and ready to play and he will be this Sunday.”
Bush’s productivity has come at an opportune time for him. He is playing under a $2.6 million restricted free agent tender this season, but is eligible to be an unrestricted free agent next offseason. While that is not at the forefront of his thinking now, he is quickly proving he can be a lead back in the NFL.
While Bush did get caught from behind on a couple of long plays in San Diego, his strengths come from a 245-pound frame that wears down defenses. He has been held to negative yards on just seven of 109 carries, for the lowest rate of any back this season with at least 100 carries.
Bush also is the type of back who gets better as the game goes on, averaging 5.5 yards per carry after his 15th run of a game compared to 4.3 before that. That’s why Jackson had no qualms giving him 30 carries against the Chargers.
”I would not want to be on the other end of that, tackling that guy for four quarters straight,” Raiders linebacker Rolando McClain said. ”Bush isn’t Darren and we know that. But Bush pounds defenders. In the third or fourth quarter you can see guys not want to tackle him. He’s a tough guy. If we want to bully around here we have to run the ball. With that guy running the ball that’s the bully mindset.”
Notes: WR Jacoby Ford did not practice because of a sprained left foot suffered in the first quarter at San Diego and his status is in doubt this week. … DT Richard Seymour (ankle) also did not practice but is expected to play.