HENDERSON, Nev. (AP) — Las Vegas Raiders running back Josh Jacobs acknowledges this is a big year for him.
Big as in when the team didn’t exercise Jacobs’ fifth-year option, it meant 2022 would be an audition.
Taken 24th overall in 2019, Jacobs leads all rushers drafted since then with 3,087 yards. He’s also caught 107 passes for 752 yards.
By exercising its option on Jacobs’ contract, Las Vegas would have committed to paying him about $8 million in 2023. Instead, the 24-year-old carries a base salary of roughly $2.1 million into this season.
But rather than dwell on it, Jacobs used the situation to fuel him as he learns a new system under first-year coach Josh McDaniels and gels with what’s become an expanded running backs room with the addition of several others.
Unseen during OTAs and mandatory minicamp last month, Jacobs said he didn’t have anything “too crazy” going on in terms of injuries, and “was just getting my body right” in time for training camp.
“I’m a firm believer in the work that you put in is gonna pay off for itself," Jacobs said. "And I had to be here either way. And this is where I want to be.”
Another fellow Alabama alum was complimentary Thursday, as seventh-year running back Kenyan Drake said it’s Jacobs’ love for the game that ignited his spark during the offseason.
“He’s gonna challenge the energy of everything around him to continue to elevate his game personally,” Drake said. “I know he’s somebody that likes to have a lot of people around him that believe in him, and at the end of the day we believe in him.”
One week into camp, Jacobs is enjoying what might arguably be the best training camp of his career, with his first step and speed looking explosive, and his attitude exactly what the team needs during its transition under McDaniels.
“You can see him, he’s taken a lot of reps in there and trying to work, as a lot of guys are, is work themselves into ultimately playing condition,” McDaniels said. “Josh got himself ready to go. He rehabbed hard in the offseason and got ready to participate in the beginning of camp. He did a great job of that and he was in condition when we reported, like the rest of our team was, and continued to grind away through the basics.”
Jacobs said the preparation for this season started when the team announced it would not retain interim coach Rich Bisaccia, who took over for Jon Gruden midseason last year. Accepting the fact he’d need to learn a new offensive system with different schemes under a third head coach in four years allowed him to prepare mentally and physically.
And that was before the team declined to pick up that fifth-year option.
Jacobs said he stayed off social media and got in the gym to quietly start working on areas of his body that would help him perform at a higher level. Once McDaniels was hired away from the Patriots, where he served as offensive coordinator, and he had his staff in place, Jacobs’ excitement grew.
“These group of guys, when you see the way they think and the reason why they do certain things, it’s just amazing to me; I’m just trying to follow their lead right now,” Jacobs said. “It’s obviously a great offense, it’s a great group of guys. I mean, we are still learning this scheme and everything right now. So I’m still trying to figure out the ins and outs of everything. But man, I’ve been happy with my progression. Hopefully, I keep stacking days and it translates.”
Though he admitted there was a feeling of added pressure entering camp, he said he has welcomed the added competition in the running back room, with six backs vying for spots on the final 53-man roster.
“I mean, it’s fun man,” Jacobs said. “I’m a firm believer of having a group of guys that’s ready to compete. I believe that iron sharpens iron.”
More AP NFL coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL