Raiders Have a Full House in Backfield : Pro football: Veterans, free agents and a rookie are competing at restocked fullback and tailback positions.
One has the experience, one has the potential and one has the job.
When the Raiders take the field tonight in Texas Stadium for their exhibition game against the Dallas Cowboys, the starting tailback will be Ty Montgomery, with Harvey Williams on the second unit and Calvin Jones on the third.
That’s not the pecking order most observers envisioned for the tailback spot, and indeed, it’s not expected to be that way on opening day.
The situation is much the same at fullback, where Napoleon McCallum will be the starter tonight, followed by Tom Rathman and then Derrick Gainer and Randy Jordan.
It is assumed Williams and Rathman will begin the regular season as the starters for the Raiders on Sept. 5 against the San Francisco 49ers in a Monday night matchup at Candlestick Park.
The Raiders didn’t sign Williams, a three-year veteran with the Kansas City Chiefs, or Rathman, an eight-year veteran with the 49ers, merely to keep their bench well stocked. The Raiders assured Rathman he’d be starting.
Asked about his plans, Coach Art Shell would only say: “Our starters are Ty Montgomery and Napoleon McCallum.”
This is the Raider way. The team usually rewards loyalty, and Montgomery and McCallum were the only productive contributors to the ground game in last year’s postseason.
Montgomery, a converted wide receiver, got his chance last year when leading rusher Greg Robinson suffered a knee injury and Nick Bell proved ineffective.
After gaining 106 yards in 37 carries during the regular season, Montgomery rushed for 72 yards in 24 carries and caught six passes--a total second only to Tim Brown on the Raiders--for 55 yards in the postseason games against the Denver Broncos and Buffalo Bills.
But to keep his starting job, Montgomery, who seems more effective as a flanker than as a ballcarrier, must hold off Williams, a natural tailback who rushed for 858 yards and averaged 3.9 a carry in his three years in Kansas City despite some stiff competition that kept him from becoming a full-time starter.
In Jones, their third-round draft choice and tailback of the future, the Raiders have the second-leading rusher in Nebraska history with 3,153 yards and 40 touchdowns.
Tough crowd for Montgomery to run in.
“Ty is not gonna give it up easy,” Shell said. “He’s running hard.”
McCallum fared well last season when he was brought off special teams and dropped into the Raider backfield because of the shortage of dependable players.
Not blessed with speed, McCallum did prove highly effective in short-yardage and goal-line situations, and this was something of a surprise considering that he had to weather a midseason appendectomy to stay in the lineup.
Nevertheless, after scoring only two rushing touchdowns in three previous seasons with the Raiders, most of which he spent on special teams, McCallum scored three in 1993 and five more in the two playoff games, when he was the Raiders’ leading rusher with 137 yards for a 4.3-yard average.
But how do you bench Rathman, who started in two Super Bowls and is a capable rusher, receiver and blocker?
Coming off a season in which they were never sure where their next carry was coming from, it’s a nice problem for the Raiders.
The other players to watch tonight as the Raiders attempt to maintain the momentum generated by last week’s exhibition victory over the Denver Broncos:
--Wide receiver James Jett, who will take advantage of the continued absence of starter Alexander Wright (pulled calf muscle) to try to win his job.
--Defensive end Scott Davis, who will continue to work toward regaining his form after a two-year retirement.
--Second-year man Greg Biekert and rookie Rob Fredrickson, who will resume their battle for the starting middle linebacker job.
The Cowboys are unbeaten under new Coach Barry Switzer, having defeated the Minnesota Vikings, 17-9, in their exhibition opener. . . . Dallas quarterback Troy Aikman picked up where he left off in the Super Bowl, completing all six of his passes. . . . Running back Emmitt Smith was held out of last week’s game by Switzer to keep him fresh, but Smith might get in for a series or two tonight. . . . Not expected to play are defensive linemen Russell Maryland and Leon Lett, both suffering from injuries to the right ankle, receivers Michael Irvin (recovering from off-season shoulder surgery) and Alvin Harper (shoulder injury), running back Derrick Lassic (knee) and center Mark Stepnoski (recovering from knee surgery). Defensive lineman Charles Haley is doubtful because of a calf sprain.