Kory Sheets is a preseason name that Oakland Raiders fans may want to get used to as the 2013 Grey Cup MVP looks to impress the coaching staff as well as the NFL as a whole in his return to the league following a trip to the CFL for the last two season with the Saskatchewan Roughriders where the now 29 year old rusher earned attention as a potential rare late bloomer at the position.
Sheets spent time with Miami and San Francisco out of college after a successful career with the Purdue Boilermakers, but due to injuries as well as some off the field troubles Sheets never earned a role in either franchise. Going to Saskatchewan for a last opportunity at a career in football, Sheets came to the Riders with a renewed focus and a motivated attitude that helped carry him to stardom in Canada along with a championship ring earned last season where he famously set the Grey Cup rushing record.
Already on the NFL radar for his two 1,000-plus yard rushing seasons with the Riders, the Grey Cup performance put Sheets on the watch list for Raiders fans when general manager Reggie McKenzie inked Sheets to a deal shortly after his CFL contract expired during the winter. Some cautiously noted Sheets age as well as his numbers coming against non-NFL defenses, but there was still excitement following Sheets entering training camp to see what the successful CFL rusher could do against a revamped Raiders defense in practice.
Entering the Raiders first off day on Tuesday following two unpadded and two padded practices, the review of Sheets performances have been mostly positive with the veteran showing off some burst during the padded sessions on a long run in addition to impressing with the pass catching ability that the CFL demanded of him the last two seasons. Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle has went as far to suggest that Sheets will be getting the majority of the preseason reps at running back along with second year Raider Latavius Murray when the Raiders debut in August against the Minnesota Vikings.
Asked about Sheets following Monday’s practice, head coach Dennis Allen mentioned that he has been impressed with Sheets running skills before noting that he will need to improve on his blocking despite those impressive running skills to stand out in a battle to make the 53 man roster in a crowded running back competition that has Allen enjoying the preseason depth he has been given.
From Allen’s Monday press conference
“I’m seeing some nice run skills. Kory’s a guy that he’s still got some work to do from the protection standpoint, but as far as a turn around, hand him the ball and let him go run with it, he’s got some very good run instincts and he’s got an exceptional burst when he gets into open space. Again, I said this yesterday and I’ve said it before, that I like the depth that we have at the running back position. I mean, I think it’s a nice battle to see which guys are going to end up making the 53-man roster.”
Sheets told Levi Damien of Silver and Black Pride that he feels his first experiences trying to make NFL teams failed due to an immaturity that he has put behind him, admitting that immaturity likely cost him a spot on the 49ers roster despite being surprised that he didn’t make the team behind Frank Gore and Glen Coffee.
“I think I was more immature,” Sheets told Silver and Black Pride. “Like most rookies are and most first and second year guys are. I was an immature player. I wanted to score on every play instead of playing the situation and I think that kind of got the best of me sometimes.”
Following his failure to make the Niners roster, Sheets entered the CFL in a humbling running back competition with the Roughriders where he had to earn a starting back job in the Canadian league with one of the most successful franchises of the 00′s in the Canadian league. Eventually Sheets made it known to head coach Corey Chamblin that he was a cut above not only the rushers on the Riders roster, but everyone else in the league. Missing action in 2013 being the only thing that prevented Sheets from becoming a 2,000 yard rusher in the two down Canadian Football League.
Having NFL options this offseason, Sheets was convinced by the Raiders that if he came to Oakland he would be given an opportunity to play should he leave superstar status in Saskatchewan (Disclaimer: As a resident of Saskatchewan, trust me on the fact that Kory Sheets is a rockstar in a football crazy province) as well as a guaranteed featured back position for a chance at not only a NFL contract, but a chance at playing on the team’s 53 man roster.
Sheets mentioned to Silver and Black Pride that when he was negotiating his contract to come to Oakland that he was told that as long as he plays the way he did while in Saskatchewan that the Raiders will use his talents just like the Roughriders used Sheets abilities in the CFL. Leading to believe that Sheets chances of making the roster may be better than what outsiders have been predicting.
“[It] came down to where would my best opportunity ,” Sheets told Silver and Black Pride about why he chose the Raiders over other interested NFL teams. “They told me everything that I wanted to hear or needed to hear in order to make the best decision to come back to the NFL.”
“One thing they said to me was ‘if you come in here and play the way that you’re capable of, you’ll definitely play. We’re not bringing guys in here just to stand around and be bodies. We want people to come in here and make an impact, make a difference’ and that was everything I wanted to hear.”
Sheets best contributions could come as a third down back for the Raiders, a player who could catch the ball in the open field and make defenders miss once he has it. With Latavius Murray holding the inside track to be the third running back on the depth chart as a 2013 draft pick with a longer future ahead of him than the 29 year old Sheets, the former Roughrider knows that he needs to make plays in order to stick around in the NFL during his potential final chance at realizing a life long dream to be a running back in the pros. Feeling that he will get a fair opportunity to make the Raiders 53 man roster, Sheets name is one to follow throughout August as he looks to prove that his production in the CFL will translate to success in Oakland.