The Canadian Football League Grey Cup MVP showed a preternatural burst of speed as he hit the hole and bounced off linemen and linebackers. But he limped back to the huddle, seemingly tweaking his groin on the run. Surely, his day was done.
No even close. The next time he touched the ball, Sheets broke off another long gainer.
“This is my last shot,” Sheets told me after practice. “As a 29-year-old unproven running back in the NFL, you don’t really get too many chances to mess up. So whenever you do get the ball ... the opportunity to make a play, you’ve got to go out there and make it.”
Sheets, who played at Purdue, has been on the practice squads of the San Francisco 49ers and Carolina Panthers and has appeared in two games with the Miami Dolphins since 2009. He spent 2012 and 2013 in the CFL with the Saskatchewan Roughriders, rushing for a combined 2,875 yards and 23 touchdowns on 516 carries.
His 197 rushing yards, on 20 attempts, against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Nov. 24, 2013, were a Grey Cup record.
After signing with the Raiders on Feb. 12, Sheets is trying to impress Oakland’s staff enough to warrant inclusion on its 53-man roster.
“I’m seeing some nice run skills,” Raiders coach Dennis Allen said. “Kory’s a guy that, he’s still got some work to do from the protection standpoint.
“But as far as (being) a turn-around, hand-him-the-ball-and-let-him-go-run-with-it (running back), he’s got some very good run instincts and he’s got an exceptional burst when he gets into open space.”
Allen said the battle to make the team as a running back is one that intrigues him. Because beyond veterans Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew, there is also Latavius Murray, who was drafted last year but spent the season on injured reserve, Jeremy Stewart and undrafted rookie/legacy George Atkinson III, whose calling card is returning kickoffs.
That is why Sheets was excited he was asked to field some punts after a recent practice; he knows special teams might be his key to winning a roster spot. And “getting the opportunity to show the coaches that I can make those blocks in those pressure situations” without having to be told his assignment is another of Sheets’ training camp goals.
Still, running the ball is his forte, and he is getting more comfortable in his own skin.
“There’s less thinking involved, so now I’m able to move fluidly without hesitation,” he said. “In the springtime, I was hesitant to move because I wasn’t sure what I was doing.”
In Canada, Sheets said he ran mostly between the tackles and there were not many “outside stretch plays” so the narrower NFL field should not negatively affect him. Unless ...
“When you’re breaking a run, you’ve got an extra five, 10 yards on the sidelines,” in Canada, he said. “There’s a little more wiggle room.”
True, Sheets is hoping for just enough room to make the Raiders roster.