When going into this off season the New York Jets had a lot of questions that still remain unanswered. There are obvious position battles that will take place just like with any other team in the league. When you say the phrase position battle and New York Jets in the same sentence the name “Tim Tebow” automatically comes to mind.
With the media circus that surrounds that situation I wanted to turn the attention to a position battle just as important, the running backs.
Although this is a passing league the Jets are sticking to their guns with their ground and pound formula. Not only do they have very capable running backs that fit this mold, they also signed an option quarterback to bolster their mindset.
With this team the words “ground and pound” may be an understatement. Most teams carry one power back and one speed back at least, this team on the other hand has three power backs and the speed back seems to be missing. Rex Ryan always reiterates the fact that he wants to play “smash mouth” football and smack the opposing defense in the mouth. He has the firepower to do this with his rotation of power backs.
You may be asking yourself what about Joe McKnight who ran a 4.4 forty at the combine isn’t he a speed back? McKnight is a back that always seems to run slower than he actually is and during the offseason he gained fifteen pounds of muscle. This will most likely hurt his speed but help him to break tackles and hold onto the ball. Fumbling was a major issue for McKnight last year in which he fumbled three times on only forty-three rushing attempts.
Hanging onto the football was not the only issue McKnight had last season, his yard per carry average was a mere 3.12. Someone who only carried the ball forty-three times all season should have had much fresher legs than that. If these problems are not corrected McKnight will lose his backup job very quickly.
The one thing that makes McKnight so valuable to the team is not his running but rather his return skills. He can also be replaced there by someone like incumbent Stephen Hill or another speedster, McKnight better perform better all around.
The next running back that is fighting for carries is newly acquired Terrance Ganaway from Baylor selected in the 6th round of the draft. Ganaway has unusual measurements at 6 feet, 240 pounds. He is the slightly smaller version of San Francisco 49ers running back Brandon Jacobs who is 6’4”, 264 pounds. Based on his size it is quite possible that the team also sees him at full back, after what seems to be a recent falling out with the coaches and John Connor.
There are a lot of questions surrounding Ganaway’s drive and if he is truly a one year wonder. Ganaway exploded last season at Baylor running for 1,547 yards on 250 carries, totaling twenty-one touchdowns on the ground. His yard per carry average was an astounding 6.2 and he even added a score through the air. This may sound very promising but his previous seasons were pale in comparison. He was not used much as a receiving back which is also something the Jets are missing. The coaches are already raving about him, but it is very early and only time will tell when it comes to Ganaway.
The next running back on the list is Bilal Powell who was used sparingly to say the least. Although he ran a 4.52 forty at the combine his speed is not an asset. He compiled only twenty-one yards on thirteen carries in his two game career with the Jets, one of which he fumbled. His measurements are 5’10”, 204 pounds which could fall into the category of speed back in the NFL.
The reason he was not mentioned earlier as the Jets lone speed back is the fact that I believe the ship has sailed on Powell in a New York Jet uniform. He may only be twenty-three years old but he is invisible on the depth chart and the team in general.
If a running back is fourth on the depth chart they better hope they can offer other things to the team. Powell is a not a return man or a key special teamer, he can easily be replaced and in essence was by Ganaway.
If an organization has faith in their running back core they would not use a draft pick on one. The Jets knew that Ladainian Tomlinson was not coming back but even still Powell’s name is not in the picture. Powell may have to catch fire to even have a chance at the practice squad. The same goes for John Griffin who is currently 5th on the depth chart.
The last running back that has not been mentioned is the starter, Shonn Greene. Greene is a greatly underestimated back who is only getting better as the years go on. He quietly had himself a season in which he eclipsed the 1,000 yard mark while contributing six touchdowns.
He improved his ball handling skills, he may have fumbled once, but the offense recovered the ball. He has a lot of positives but there are two very big negatives that are plain to see. The first thing that Greene has trouble with is his receiving skills. If you are looking for a receiving running back Shonn Greene is not your guy. He drops balls that a Pop Warner player could catch and had only 30 receptions compared to LT’s 42.
The second negative that Shonn Greene has is his durability and inability to stay fresh. When Thomas Jones and LT were the starters in New York, Shonn Greene would be used to deal the final punch to an opponent’s defensive line. When the Jets have lost Greene to injuries in the past you can see the decrease in offensive play as a whole.
Greene needs to have a counterpart to split carries with because he seems to play worse when he is the only workhorse. Greene will undoubtedly start the season as the starter in New York, the question is will he keep the job or will another running back on the roster do what LT did to him.
Although all the running backs have been named with their positive and negative attributes out on the table there is one thing left that may determine the amount of snaps each will get. This is something that everyone seems to be talking about, that’s right you guessed it, Tim Tebow. I said I would avoid talking about the situation and I have up until this point, but there is no denying the option is a formation that will be very big this year.
This should not be confused with the Wildcat formation which is a direct snap formation. The formation needs a running back for it to function, so the question is who will it be? The obvious choice would be Joe McKnight who has experience in these formations in New York. Another great option would be rookie WR Stephen Hill or Jeremy Kerley. The Jets could also use both a running back and wide receiver in the formation so anything is possible.
The fact that Joe McKnight has experience with this scenario makes him the clear cut favorite to be the running back of choice. This would increase McKnight’s carries drastically because the coaches would like to see Tebow in about 20-25 plays a game. That number can either go up or down depending on performance of course.
The presence of another man not named Tim Tebow will also affect the snaps of the running backs. That man is Tony Sparano, the no nonsense, run first offensive coordinator of the future. Each of the running backs seem to be very well disciplined, but if you had to choose which one may be in the dog house the most often it would have to be McKnight.
Tony Sparano like Rex Ryan loves to run the ball down anyone’s throat. Sparano had very good running teams in Miami and recently helped turn Reggie Bush’s career completely around. The Jets seemed to get away from the run last year, but I expect this year will be the greatest showing of runs possibly ever.
With all the facts laid out on the table I would like to predict how the order of the depth chart will end up and the reasoning behind it. Greene will be the starter for the Jets the entire season, but his backups will not be far behind. The snaps that McKnight and Ganaway get I believe will be very close with Ganaway ending up with slightly more. The reasoning behind this is the fact that in the option formation there will be numerous times where McKnight never touches the ball. The play could result in a pass or even one of Tim Tebow’s patented runs.
Another factor is the fact that McKnight is the primary kick returner and a very good one at that. He needs to stay fresh in that department and over time I see Ganaway as the running back who will handle the majority of third down attempts.
Ganaway could also be used at fullback as mentioned earlier to not only block but run as well. Lastly I see the Jets only carrying three running backs this year which means saying goodbye to Powell and Griffin. Powell may have future ability and is a great practice squad candidate. Griffin on the other hand will need to find a home on another team or even another league.
This situation like everything else can change in an instant. Injuries ruin careers as well as ignite them. One man’s fall is another man’s rise and this statement is especially true in the NFL. If all goes according to plan the New York Jets will literally be running wild the entire season. Due to a weaker strength schedule the Jets should have a bounce back season and a big part of that will be thanks to what works, “ground and pound.”