HENDERSON, Nev. — Zamir White spent the offseason taking care of his 12 horses and making sure the cows, goats and garden were all tended to when he wasn’t running hills, tossing bales of hay or chopping wood on his Georgia farm as part of his workouts.
He has spent the first two-plus weeks of training camp as the Las Vegas Raiders‘ starting tailback, with first-team All-Pro Josh Jacobs not signing his $10.091 million franchise tag and staying away from the team.
What’s the heavier load for a second-year running back to carry?
White, whose life story has been one of overcoming one obstacle after another since birth, simply smiled. This, he insinuated after a recent camp practice in the sweltering Southern Nevada heat, is fun.
“Just head down, grinding, that’s about it,” White said of assuming the role of starter, though it will undoubtedly change if and when Jacobs reports. “I’ve just been focused on my part and just being here ready to work every single morning. That’s about it for me, grinding it out.”
It’s all he’s known.
White, a fourth-round pick out of Georgia in 2022, was born with a cleft lip and cleft palate, was given two weeks to live by doctors and spent the first three months of his life in a hospital. He also endured surgeries to repair leaking kidneys and a hernia, had bone transferred from his hip to his mouth to correct the lip and palate while having tubes put in his ears to reduce infections — all in his first few years of life.
As a toddler, he was rescued from a fire in his family’s mobile home. Later, he tore the ACL in his right knee as a high school senior and the ACL in his left knee as a Georgia freshman.
The prospect and pressure of replacing Jacobs, even if just on an interim basis, might seem formidable for most. Plus, the Raiders signed Damien Williams, an eight-year vet who has a Super Bowl ring with the Kansas City Chiefs, on Friday, though coach Josh McDaniels insisted the move was simply for depth. The Raiders are in the midst of four joint practices and exhibitions against the San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Rams and have other running backs “nicked” up.
Still, Williams would have to round into shape, both physically and mentally, and overtake the likes of Ameer Abdullah, Brandon Bolden, Sincere McCormick and Brittain Brown on the depth chart to become a threat to White at this stage.
For a guy nicknamed “Zeus,” it’s just another step. Even if White had just 17 carries for 70 yards in 14 games as a rookie. Still, those numbers were second-most among Raiders running backs last season, as Jacobs rushed for an NFL-high 1,653 yards on 340 attempts.
That came in the wake of the Raiders not picking up Jacobs’ fifth-year option and using their second pick of last year’s draft on White. Jacobs’ production surprised even McDaniels, who anticipated relying on a running back-by-committee approach. A year later, McDaniels anticipates riding Jacobs again, whenever he shows up. But until then …
“The backs are all going to get opportunities in training camp,” McDaniels said. “This is our opportunity to try to get them all a foundation in our system and see what they can do and see if they can develop and improve. [White’s] running skill and innate ability to see things when he has the ball — find lanes, cutbacks, when he’s supposed to bounce, when he’s not, when he’s supposed to go ahead and tuck it in there and make some hard yards — I’d say just overall, his ability to go forward on contact … that’s how he ran in college.
“He’s putting in a lot of time and effort into trying to be a complete player, not just a guy that has the ball and can do something with it. He wants to be good in blitz pickup, he wants to improve in the passing game. And all those things are part of a young back’s progression.”
Jacobs also caught 53 passes for 400 yards last season. White’s next catch will be his first. Hence White’s desire to soak it all in this camp.
“This year it has eased out some,” White said. “Just doing the extra meetings, the extra film, the game calmed down, too. So, you really just go out there and do your thing and have fun, really. Just don’t think about all the negatives. Just think positive when you’re out there.”
With Jacobs out, White has been leaning on veterans Abdullah and Bolden in the Raiders’ running back room.
“[I] just ask questions,” White said. “There’s no dumb questions, no little questions. I just talk to them and just ask them. Because Ameer and ‘B’ are going to help you regardless … ‘Yeah bro, do this and do that. With this front and this read, you do this.’
“We just break it down.”
While the Raiders are anticipating Jacobs’ return, they’re also confident that White is up to the task.
“I don’t think anyone is like Josh in the league, Josh is one of a kind, and I can’t wait to get him back,” said Raiders offensive lineman Jermaine Eluemunor. “But Zeus is definitely a guy. We’re lucky to have him because, like him and Josh are two different guys. Josh can run you over, or juke you out. Zamir is just going to run headfirst and run you over.
“He doesn’t care, and it’s cool playing for guys like that because you know if you open up a hole and he gets to the safety, nine times out of 10, he’s going to run him over and score.”
White, who rushed for 856 yards and 11 TDs as a junior at Georgia in 2021, smiled shyly at the notion when asked how he would describe his running style.
“Man, just get it down,” he laughed. “Just go ahead downhill and just make the play work. Just trying to be a good teammate and just do my part. That’s about it for me.”
And that’s all that’s needed … for now.
Source : ESPN