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McFadden offers Raiders intriguing possibilities

ALAMEDA, Calif. -- For most of the preseason, Oakland Raiders coach Lane Kiffin has kept rookie Darren McFadden's varied skills under wraps.

Instead of lining him up out wide as a receiver, giving him direct snaps as a quarterback or using him as a kick returner, Kiffin has kept things basic with McFadden. There have been a lot of off-tackle runs, a few draw plays and a couple of sweeps to the outside.

When McFadden makes his NFL debut against Denver on Monday night, Broncos coach Mike Shanahan is prepared to see the whole package of plays.

"I think everybody will obviously prepare for what he did in college as well as what he's done in the preseason games," Shanahan said this week. "We know he's played the quarterback position and we know what he's done out of the quarterback position. At the collegiate level to have the success that he's had, he's just a tremendous weapon. He has big-play potential and can do a lot of different things."

Not so fast, Kiffin says. McFadden is still a rookie and Kiffin says he's in no rush to overload his star pupil, especially before a national television audience.

"We've got to get this guy in the I-formation and let him take the ball and get hit without fumbling it before we start trying to move him all over the place," Kiffin said.

Whether Kiffin is telling the truth or practicing a little bit of subterfuge won't be known until the game starts. The team portion of practices have been closed to the media the past two weeks, making it impossible to tell how often McFadden is working on things other than taking a handoff and running as a tailback.

He did plenty else in college at Arkansas, often taking direct snaps at quarterback in the "wildcat" formation and either handing off to Felix Jones, running with the ball himself or even throwing the ball on occasion.

He lined up as a wide receiver at times in practice during training camp, as the Raiders have tried different ways to capitalize on his blazing speed.

"It's going to be real exciting when we get out there and do that," McFadden said. "I like getting out there and moving around, splitting out wide or whatever it is they want me to do, I enjoy doing it."

Kiffin said those types of plays will likely come as the season progresses. McFadden says he's ready for whatever Kiffin decides to call.

Running the ball will once again be the priority for Oakland offensively, especially with question marks at receiver and offensive tackle limiting what quarterback JaMarcus Russell can do in his first full season as the starter.

Oakland had a strong running game last season behind a new zone-blocking scheme, finishing sixth in the league in rushing. The Raiders are hoping for even more success this year with McFadden joining 1,000-yard back Justin Fargas and the line having more experience in the new system.

"Hopefully they don't get too much better or we'll really be in trouble," Shanahan said. "They're very well coordinated, they're very well coached, they play extremely hard together. You can see that the system has been very successful."

Oakland is using a system similar to the one that Denver had perfected over the years. The Raiders gained 375 yards rushing in the two games against the Broncos, which was part of a disturbing pattern all season for Denver.

The Broncos had the league's third-worst rushing defense, leading to the firing of defensive coordinator Jim Bates, who was replaced by secondary coach Bob Slowik. Kiffin saw a big difference already in the exhibition games.

"They've definitely committed to stop the run, you see that on film. They line up in an eight-man front about every snap in preseason," he said. "To me, it looks like they've made an emphasis on, 'We're going to stop the run,' much like us. I think our defenses are similar in that aspect. Both of us have had trouble stopping the run, both of us have good corners. We've had to focus our attention in the offseason on stopping the run and it looks like they have too."

Notes: WR Javon Walker (hamstring), DE Kalimba Edwards (groin) and S Rashad Baker (ankle) working out individually on the side during practice. If they can't practice Saturday, Kiffin said they would be unlikely to play in the game. ... If Walker can't play, Johnnie Lee Higgins and newcomer Ashley Lelie would split time at split end. ... Former San Francisco LB Brandon Moore was in for a tryout Friday.

Copyright 2008 by the Associated Press

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