ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP) -When Lane Kiffin was the receivers coach at USC a few years ago, the Trojans had a nickname for running back Justin Fargas.
``We used to call him the crash test dummy,'' the Raiders' coach said Thursday. ``It's like the guy they throw in and he just goes running into the wall.''
Fargas' style hasn't changed much since. He's back with Kiffin and still crashing into defenders, although not with the upright abandon he did in college. He's also flashing the speed that made him one of the nation's most coveted recruits coming out of high school, only now as the Raiders' featured back.
t in more than a month.
``Obviously, we didn't make the switch just to try something,'' Kiffin said. ``We really felt that Justin had done well in his opportunities and we felt that he'd run great and he was making the right reads. We wanted to get him more opportunities, and he responded. To me, he showed why he should be the starter.''
The Raiders had gotten a sense of Fargas' worth earlier in the season when he filled in against Miami on Sept. 30 after Jordan hurt his back in the first half. Fargas responded with a career-high 179 yards, including 172 in the second half.
He went back to the bench the following week and had just three carries combined in consecutive losses to San Diego and Kansas City. It seemed a foregone conclusion that the 2003 third-round draft pick was destined to play out the rest of the season as he has most of his NFL career, as a perennial backup.
Instead, after gaining 61 yards on 12 carries against Tennessee and the Titans' No. 1-ranked rushing defense, Fargas was promoted to starter ahead of Jordan, whose production dipped dramatically over the last four games.
``I've been working hard for a long time to get in this position,'' Fargas said. ``But it's not a thing where I feel satisfied because there's a lot more that I can do. My best football's in the future.''
Jordan, who was among the league leaders in rushing through the first month of the season when he had 424 yards on 84 carries, has gained just 97 yards on 45 carries over the last four games. Part of the problem has been a nagging back injury that he's been nursing since training camp, though Jordan is also quick to blame himself.
``When it really comes down to it, just looking at the film, I haven't been running hard,'' Jordan said. ``I've been missing some reads. I haven't been producing pass-protection wise. I'm not going to sit here and pretend I'm happy with it. It's one of those things you just have to deal with it.''
The Raiders also have Dominic Rhodes in their backfield, though the former Indianapolis Colt has carried the ball just nine times this season.
Fargas certainly has the credentials this season to hold onto the starting job. A year after leading the Raiders with 659 yards when Jordan missed the final six games with a knee injury, Fargas is on his way to becoming the first player to lead Oakland in rushing for consecutive years since Charlie Garner in 2001-02.
His 5.4 yards-per-carry average is third-highest in the NFL among running backs with at least 100 carries and he hasn't fumbled once in 129 carries. He's also become one of Oakland's most effective pass blockers.
More significantly, Fargas has avoided the nagging injuries that plagued him earlier in his career. That has also quieted critics who used to say that the injuries were a direct result of his running style.
``He is a little nicked up now but we definitely don't want to change who he is because he brings a lot,'' Kiffin said. ``And that's a very big reason why he's starting, because of the way he runs and what he brings.''

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