Josh Jacobs was handed an assignment after a stellar rookie season at running back for the Raiders.
As well as Jacobs ran the ball last year, he wasn’t nearly as effective as a receiver and the Raiders hoped he could show significant improvement in year two.
After one game this season, Jacobs is showing signs he heeded that advice.
Along with the 93 yards and three touchdowns he gained on the ground against the Panthers on Sunday in a typical productive performance, Jacobs was targeted six times in the passing game. He caught four of those for 46 yards, setting career highs in all of those categories.
“It definitely was fun,” he said. “A lot of times when I play receiver, I get a lot more chances to be in open space, so that’s always fun.”
Few are better in open space than Jacobs, who is one of the toughest backs to tackle, ranking near the top of the league as a rookie in yards gained after contact.
While that fueled the franchise-rookie record 1,150 yards rushing he had, he only recorded 20 catches last season, leading to the edict from coach Jon Gruden to improve that part of his game.
Jacobs spent the offseason working on his releases off the line and the way he ran patterns to become more reliable in that aspect of the game. He even got video cut-ups from receivers coach Edgar Bennett to see how other players run their patterns.
He also got extra work in with quarterback Derek Carr, who has noticed the difference.
“He obviously did some freaky things after the catch, but you have to take a step back and realize all the work he put in,” Carr said. “Even when he wasn’t going to be the guy in the games. Even when he wasn’t going to be the guy that was going to run those routes, he would still be like, ‘Derek, can we work on that? Can I do another one? Can we do it again? Tell me what you see.’ He wants to learn and know these things. He sees it very well. Now the fact that he’s put it on film that he can do it opens some things up for coach to say, ‘Man, maybe we can do it with him.’"
Jacobs carried a heavy load in the opener, carrying the ball 25 times to go along with the four catches. The 29 touches tied a career high and were the most for a Raiders player in eight years.
He goes into this season hoping to catch at least 60 passes. Marcus Allen and LaMont Jordan are the only Raiders ever to catch 60 passes and run for at least 1,000 yards in the same season.
Jacobs’ durability was a question when he came out of Alabama since he had 20 touches in a game only once in college. But he proved his toughness by playing through a shoulder injury for much of last season and felt fresh after the opener.
“It’s weird because that’s the thing I kind of thought about, like how would I feel after this game,” he said. “But I feel good. I didn’t have any nicks or stuff for real. I remember last year I felt like I was in a car crash, so I mean I feel good.”
A healthy Jacobs is a key part of a productive offense for the Raiders, who have failed to average 20 points a game in each of the past three seasons.
With an improved set of receivers led by rookie Henry Ruggs III, a playmaking tight end in Darren Waller and a dynamic back, the Raiders hope they can be much more prolific on offense this season.
The 34 points in the season-opening win from a balanced attack show that could be possible.
“I’m not surprised,” Jacobs said. “I have kind of been hitting at it all offseason, that we can kind of do whatever we want, whether it’s run the ball, we can open it up now and we have a lot of great, young receivers. So, we can really play however we want to and just see that we are kind of putting the pieces together slowly. It’s huge.”
NOTES: T Trent Brown (calf), LB Nick Kwiatkoski (pectoral), Ruggs (knee) and T Sam Young (groin) didn’t participate in practice. ... The Raiders signed DB Dallin Leavitt to the practice squad after releasing him from the 53-man roster earlier in the week. DB Jordan Brown was released from the practice squad.
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