Raiders unsure who will lead way for McFadden

BY foxsports • October 7, 2011

Raiders fullback Manase Tonga finished practice, took a shower and then added a new twist to his Friday routine - packing a suitcase for the team's trip to Houston.

Tonga is Oakland's only healthy fullback and could make his NFL debut against the Texans the way things are going.

Starter Marcel Reece is questionable with a lingering ankle injury and backup Richard Gordon already has been ruled out with a broken hand.

That forced coach Hue Jackson to be creative in practice this week and opened the door for Tonga, who is on the Raiders' practice squad for a second straight season.

''Things are looking good, but I don't want to count my chickens before the eggs hatch,'' Tonga said before getting on a bus for the short ride to the Oakland airport. ''I just have to make sure I'm ready.''

Practice squad players usually don't travel with teams to road games. Tonga was the only member of the Raiders' taxi squad who joined the team for the flight to Texas.

The decision to bring Tonga along illustrated how concerned Oakland is about the status of Reece, who injured his ankle against the New York Jets on Sept. 25 and was inactive last week against New England.

Reece said on Friday that he was hopeful of playing in Houston, though Jackson wasn't as optimistic.

''We'll find somebody to line up back there,'' Jackson said. ''It's going to sort itself out. We're going to have somebody back there that will block and be able to get the job done.''

Fullback is a critical position for Oakland. Besides being the main blocker for league-leading rusher Darren McFadden, fullbacks also are a key cog in the Raiders' passing game. Reece was fourth on the team in receptions in 2010 and already has one touchdown catch this year.

Tonga appears to be the likely replacement if Reece is ruled out. He took all the reps with the first-team offense in practice this week while Reece watched from the sidelines.

''Some of it was review stuff, just making sure I know my assignments,'' Tonga said. ''I feel pretty good about it. It's unfortunate the injury situation, but at the same time we're all here to play. I want to get my chance.''

Oakland has other options, too.

While they'd have to cut a player to make room for Tonga, the Raiders could use a tight end in the backfield.

Gordon was drafted as a tight end before being pressed into duty as a fullback when Reece was hurt. Backup tight end Brandon Myers also has lined up in the backfield.

The only Raiders tight end who won't have to worry about making the move is Kevin Boss.

''That's something he's never done, so I would never ask him to do something that he hasn't done,'' Jackson said. ''He's very comfortable being a tight end playing on the line of scrimmage. Not that he can't play off, but to go play a true fullback would be a little stretch at this time.''

Oakland's secondary also is hurting.

Right cornerback Chris Johnson (hamstring) is out and backup Chimdi Chekwa (hamstring) is questionable. That means the Raiders will start either Joe Porter or third-round pick DeMarcus Van Dyke, neither of whom has started in the NFL.

Additionally, safeties Michael Huff (ankle) and Mike Mitchell (knee) are also on the team's injury report. Huff, who can play cornerback in an emergency, is questionable while Mitchell is probable.

Notes: Defensive end Matt Shaughnessy (shoulder) is the only other Oakland player ruled out for Sunday's game. ... Jackson confirmed the Raiders visited with four-time Pro Bowl defensive end Trevor Pryce but declined to say if it was related to Shaugnessy's injury. ''Is there a reason we talked to Trevor? Probably so,'' Jackson said. ''Just to make sure we cover all of our bases. But we'll continue to look for better players if we can find them.''

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