Zamir White ready to be Raiders' lead running back

Zamir White flourished during the final month of the 2023 season, rushing for 397 yards and a touchdown in the Raiders' final four games. Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY Sports

HENDERSON, Nev. -- The question -- Are you comfortable embracing your new role as lead running back? -- had barely left the reporter's lips when Zamir White fired back.

"Hell yes," he said ... with aplomb. It was as if he had just spied an open hole between a guard and a tackle, planted his foot and hit the opening full speed.

A hole, both literal and figurative, has also opened in the Las Vegas Raiders' RB room with the departure of former All-Pro Josh Jacobs in free agency. So yeah, actually, hell yes, White is up for the challenge of replacing Jacobs.

And why not? Small sample size, sure, but White already did it to close out last season.

With Jacobs hobbled and missing the Raiders' final four games, White more than assumed the role and rushed for a combined 397 yards (averaging 4.7 yards per carry) and a touchdown on 84 carries. He also caught nine passes for 60 yards as the Raiders remained in playoff contention until Week 17.

Meanwhile, Jacobs finished with career lows in rushing yards (805), yards per carry (3.5), touchdowns (6), first downs (34) and games played (13) a year after leading the league in yards from scrimmage (2,053). He then signed a reported four-year, $48 million deal with the Green Bay Packers in free agency.

And don't think the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs have forgotten about the 145 rushing yards White dropped on them at Arrowhead Stadium on Christmas Day, the last time the Chiefs lost a game.

"That built up a lot of confidence moving into this year," White said of his strong finish. "But last year was last year. We've got to move on from that and just build off of this right now, what we've got going on now.

"Yeah, that's the past."

But it's also what the Raiders want to see more of in the future. Particularly with a new scheme brought to town courtesy of new offensive coordinator Luke Getsy.

Consider: as the Chicago Bears' playcaller the past two seasons, Getsy authored the Nos. 1 and 2 rushing attacks in the NFL, respectively. So touches shouldn't be too hard to come by, even with a three-time first-team All-Pro receiver in Davante Adams, a rising talent opposite Adams in Jakobi Meyers and a pair of young, dynamic pass-catching tight ends in Michael Mayer and first-round pick Brock Bowers.

Still, while Getsy said it's a "cool group," he is pumping the brakes a bit on the Raiders' remodeled running back room.

"This isn't the time of the year for backs, right?" Getsy said. "Backs got to put the pads on, and then that's really when you find out. And yeah, it's fun to see them and they're fast, and they look the part, and they're getting better out there at all their assignments.

"But we know that those types of players, when they get the pads on a training camp, that's when you really start to find out how much you really like that group."

Check back around July 27 for the hitting to commence.

Until then, White will continue to wrap his mind around his new role while learning the playbook and tending to his two new horses, Zeus and Queen, when back home on his ranch in Laurinburg, North Carolina.

His stable plays a role in getting him ready for the NFL season, both physically and mentally.

"My offseason was gym and running and horses," White said with a smile. "That's all I did. Wake up around 6 and go feed them, then I'd go lift after that, shoot, that's when I'd come back to the barn and ride some more. That's about it for me."

While the 6-foot, 215-pound White's regimen may not feel all that familiar to new teammate and fellow running back Alexander Mattison, his current station in his career certainly does.

Mattison was a career backup to four-time Pro Bowler Dalvin Cook with the Minnesota Vikings before getting his shot last season. Despite career-highs in rushing yards (700), carries (180) and receiving touchdowns (3), the Vikings released Mattison, who also caught 30 passes.

He signed a one-year deal with Las Vegas worth up to $2 million this spring.

"It's as difficult as you make it," Mattison said of going from understudy to starter.

"But with the right guys, with the right group, with the right coach, it makes that process a lot easier. So, for us to be able to have a good group of backs, there's some young guys in the room, but we're all relative to one another in that sense, and we help one another."

The Raiders also re-signed utility running back Ameer Abdullah, drafted New Hampshire running back Dylan Laube in the sixth round, and still have Brittain Brown and Sincere McCormick on the roster.

"If I have a question, Ameer's there, Zamir's there," Mattison said. "If he has a question, I'm here. It's one of those things where we all help each other out in learning a new system and we're all in this together. So far it's working out, and so far, we're taking those right steps in the right direction."

But as Getsy cautioned, while saying there was "explosiveness," "pass-catching" ability and "toughness" in the RB room, White & Co. cannot truly be judged until the pads come on and the hitting starts.

And that's just fine with White, a fourth-round pick in 2022 who more than sextupled his rookie rushing yardage in 2023 and finds himself in the feature-back role for the first time since his college days at Georgia.

"Last year, my role was more like [being] a quiet guy," White said, "Just like, when they need me, I'm here. But now I have to grow back into that vocal leader, and I'm just showing them on the field, every single day.

"I'm in this new role, and it's a whole new ground for me. So, [I'll] just keep on grinding it out, working, learning from the backs in the room and just progress."