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Raiders vs Broncos

Wade Vandervort

Las Vegas Raiders running back Zamir White (35) runs the ball during the first half of an NFL football game against the Denver Broncos at Allegiant Stadium Sunday, Jan. 7, 2024.

One of Zamir White’s favorite things about playing college football at the University of Georgia was the way the home crowd would chant his nickname, “Zeus,” every time he touched the ball.

Although it wasn’t quite 92,000 people like at Georgia’s Sanford Stadium, the rallying cry showed up for the first time professionally Sunday at Allegiant Stadium in the Las Vegas Raiders’ 27-14 win against the Denver Broncos. A smattering of Raider fans cheered on the 24-year-old running back by yelling “Zeus” both when he first ran onto the field and after at least one big run in the second half, though White missed it.

“Bro, like on the field, you’re zoned out,” he said. “But back in college, I used to hear it. The whole crowd used to hold it out like, ‘Zeeeuuuusssss.’”

White can consider hearing it more often something to look forward to next season. Las Vegas concluded this season with the win against Denver, finishing with an 8-9 record, to enter an offseason with several unknowns — especially on offense.

Interim general manager Champ Kelly and interim coach Antonio Pierce might keep their jobs full time, but owner Mark Davis is required to go through a full search first. The new power duo, whether it’s Kelly and Pierce or another pair, will likely make settling on a quarterback one of the first acts of business, as current starter/rookie Aidan O’Connell looks more suited as a backup.

Rumors have already circulated regarding star receiver Davante Adams, who could request a trade going into the final guaranteed year on his contract depending on the franchise’s direction (he’s been an outspoken proponent of keeping Pierce and Kelly). All-Pro running back Josh Jacobs is set to become an unrestricted free agent after playing this season on a one-year, nearly $12 million deal when he and the franchise couldn’t come to terms on a long-term contract.

White therefore is perhaps the biggest weapon all but guaranteed to be back. That may sound hyperbolic, but not with how the former fourth-round pick finished the season.

Getting his first extended action with Jacobs nursing a quad injury over the final month, White became the first running back in Raiders history to run for more than 100 yards in two of his first four career starts.

“He’s a dog,” Jacobs said of White after the Broncos win. “I’ve been saying it for a long time. I’m glad he got to go out there and showcase what he can do and show people that he’s special, too. I definitely tell him all the time I’m proud of him, and hopefully he can keep getting a bigger role and develop more as a running back.”

Jacobs has praised White since the Raiders drafted him, and it’s always been ironic that he’s such a big supporter of the player likely brought in to take his job. That’s the cruel reality of the NFL, especially at running back where teams are more commonly refusing to dole out big-money contracts to veterans and instead are going younger.

Jacobs will likely be hoping for a deal that pays him around $10 million per season, while White is on a cost-controlled rookie contract that will pay him around $1 million in each of the next two years. Primes tend to come earlier for running backs, and though he’s only a year-and-a-half younger, White arguably looked spryer than Jacobs this season.

White’s yards per carry was a whopping 0.8 greater than Jacobs’, though some of the discrepancy can be chalked up to opposing defenses game-planning more around the latter. Jacobs also had 129 more carries.

But it’s never been competitive between the two former SEC stars — Jacobs came out of White’s rival University of Alabama — and they both welcome staying together and sharing the workload.

“Me and Josh were talking about how we’re the same type of guy,” White said. “We’re both laid back and chill. We think alike. We’ll be in meetings, we’ll hear something, and we’ll look at each other like, ‘Yeah.’ It’s been huge for him to be there for me this whole time.

“I’m here if JJ needs a break or something. I’m fine.”

If Pierce is retained, White might be the perfect back to instill the mentality the former NFL linebacker likes to employ. The 6-foot, 215-pound White can be a little shifty and showed progress in the pass game this season, but he’s at his best when he’s running through — not around — defenders.

Pierce has never strayed from his desire to implement a throwback, run-first offense that values machismo over trickiness.

“To be honest, I get the pretty stuff — throwing the ball around — but at the end of the day, football is meant to be physical and violent and hitting one another,” Pierce said. “That’s what we want to be.”

That’s who White is, as he proudly describes himself as “a country boy,” who got into his best shape going into his second year by spending a whole offseason on his farm in southern North Carolina. That’s the plan again this year, as White said the next several months leading up to training camp in August will be spent “pushing hay bales, training with horses (he owns 12), having fun with family, bonfires and hunting.”

White enjoys the isolation of rural life, but he’ll be happy to return to the bright lights of Las Vegas when it’s time — especially if the big crowd starts chanting his nickname a little louder.

“Raider Nation, do that for me, please,” White said. “I love that.”

This story originally appeared in Las Vegas Weekly.

Article written by #LasVegasSun