HENDERSON, Nev. (AP) — The question not only is whether Josh Jacobs will return but when he will be back in a Raiders uniform.
The longer Jacobs waits to return to Las Vegas, the more probable it is the Raiders will rely heavily on Zamir White to open the season.
White, the club's fourth-round pick in 2022 out of Georgia, has handled first-team snaps this training camp and was the starting running back in the Raiders' first two preseason games. He has averaged 3.6 yards a rush in gaining 83 yards in those two games, but has had flashes he could take on a bigger workload if asked.
In Saturday's 34-17 victory over the Los Angeles Rams, White rushed for 22 yards on four carries on the opening drive. That was the only series, which ended in a touchdown, that the Raiders' starting offense played.
He finished that game with 40 yards on 10 carries and caught a pass for 9 yards.
“There were some plays where maybe it’s a 2-yard run, but it’s a 5-yard run or it’s a 4- or 5-yard run, and it’s a 7-yard run,” Las Vegas coach Josh McDaniels said. "He’s got a great finish and forward lean. He makes extra yards on contact most plays. He’s just continuing to improve, and the more he plays, the better he does.”
White is not only working for a prominent role for this season, but also for future years given the uncertainty of Jacobs' future in Las Vegas. The expectation is Jacobs will be back for this season because he would be forfeiting the $10.1 million owed to him if he doesn't sign the franchise tag tender.
After this season, his future could be even more uncertain, especially given the heavy workload Jacobs already has received.
The Raiders gave him the ball nearly 400 times last season between running and receiving. Jacobs led the NFL in rushing with 1,653 yards.
Because that position takes such a pounding, Jacobs sought long-term security in the offseason, but failed to reach a deal with management to extend beyond this season. The Raiders, in fact, could decide one more season of using Jacobs in a workhorse role is about as much as they can get out of him while still maintaining a high level of productivity.
As for this season, McDaniels said Jacobs would need practice time to get ready for the season, so the longer he waits, the more of an opportunity that is for White and backup Ameer Abdullah.
“It’s not easy to go out there and just play games and do it at the speed and level that you want to do it at unless you’ve really had enough opportunity to get yourself ready to do that,” McDaniels said. “We’ve talked all year to our team about nothing carries over from one year to the next. ... So whether it would be (Jacobs) or somebody else, it’s the same thing.”
McDaniels has said that Jacobs would likely still be the dominant ballcarrier if he's back in the lineup, but that wasn't necessarily the plan going into last season.
The Raiders drafted White with the idea he would be a big part of the offense, but Jacobs proved to be tough to take off the field because of his durability and versatility, not only running and receiving but also as a valuable blocker.
As a result, White rushed just 17 times for 70 yards and didn't catch a pass. The latter part is something White made a point of emphasis this training camp.
“When I’m done practicing, I catch balls and run routes,” White said earlier this month. "Every day, I try to get better at it.”
What his role exactly will be this season is to be determined. It will become much clearer once Jacobs decides on whether he will return.
Jacobs has been quiet publicly. He last posted on X, the social media platform previously known at Twitter, on Aug. 3 when he said he was “honored” to be selected as the league's 12th-best player by his peers.
Attempts to reach Jacobs' agent, Chad Wiestling, were unsuccessful, and McDaniels said he didn't have an update on contract negotiations.
For the Raiders, and White specifically, it's wait and see.
“I’ve just been focused on my part and being here ready to work every single morning," White said.
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Mark Anderson, The Associated Press