<
>

George Atkinson III: 'I'm still trying to make the team'

NAPA, Calif. -- Yes, George Atkinson III is considered Oakland Raiders royalty, so to speak. At the very least, he's a legacy, given that his dad was an institution at strong safety for the Raiders from 1968 through 1977.

But lineage does not guarantee a spot on the team's 53-man roster. Not when he's spent most of the past two years on Oakland's practice squad.

Surely, though, Atkinson's breakout performance in the Raiders' 31-10 preseason-opening victory at the Arizona Cardinals on Friday had to give the coaching staff some food for thought, no?

"You want to have confidence," Atkinson told reporters after rushing for 97 yards and two breathtaking touchdowns on five carries. "But you also need to work on things that didn't go right and to continue to get better and, I'm still trying to make the team."

Speed has never been a question when it comes to Atkinson, who signed with the Raiders as an undrafted free agent out of Notre Dame in 2014. Durability as an everydown back and ball security have been the issues.

You can't coach speed, and Atkinson's "quicks" were on display in the second half in Arizona.

"The coaching staff put me and the O-line in great position to make big plays," he said.

In the third quarter, Atkinson broke off a 53-yard run when, on a draw play, he bounced to the outside on the right and simply outran the Cardinals defenders down the right sideline.

"Joe Hansley made a great block, cut the crap out of that guy," Atkinson said, "and kind of sprung me going to the outside and use my speed."

Late in the fourth quarter, Atkinson sped down the left side and, with Marqui Christian closing, Atkinson stopped and shook him at the 10-yard line, walking in for a 35-yard score.

Atkinson said he had been working on such shiftiness and patience this offseason.

"Reading the defense," he said. "Knowing the blocks before they happen and trusting the line that they're going to make those blocks. That's what I did tonight, and it was a great night.

"I was just happy I was able to display it on the field."

And as big a critic he may be of himself, Atkinson has another source to tap … his father.

"He's worked hard this offseason," the elder Atkinson said in a text. "Extremely hard."

Son was anticipating dad getting on him for "some runs I should have made" against Arizona, that "there's always room to get better" in this game.

"You've got to buckle down now," the younger Atkinson recalled his father telling him as he prepared to enter his third NFL season. "As soon as you get the opportunity, you need to let the coaches know you can make the squad."

Opportunity came after starter Latavius Murray played two series, fullback Jamize Olawale had some run, fifth-round draft pick DeAndre Washington showed promise and undrafted rookie free agent Jalen Richard did not suit up.

With three preseason games to go, Atkinson opened some eyes, no doubt. Especially if he can show added value on special teams.

"I've still got a lot of work to do," he said. "This one's in the bag; we're done with this game. We're going to get some corrections made and go into Green Bay."