Ground and Pound? Looking at the Jets Running Back Situation

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Just four days into training camp,  Rex Ryan and his Jets have fired off their usual array of verbal salvos: They’ve already uttered Super Bowl guarantees and boasts about how this is “the best roster” in Ryan’s tenure.  But one surprising talking point has been in regards to the Jets’ offense, and how they plan on placing more of the burden on Mark Sanchez and the passing game.

While this is something that many Jets fans have been clamoring for (myself included), it’s also something that may give them reason to pause.

For two seasons, the Jets have not only survived, but thrived on their “ground and pound” philosophy, particularly in the cold-weather months at the business end of the season.  But perhaps the Jets’ shift to a more passing-oriented offense is a function of the Jets’ personnel in the backfield, which is far from a sure thing.

Everyone is ready to jump on the Shonn Greene bandwagon, but the only person that really matters in that equation is Greene himself.  His first two seasons with the Jets have been inconsistent; flashes of brilliance one week, absolutely nothing the next.  His game logs prove that point pretty well, so the question remains: can Greene shoulder the load over the course of an entire 17 week season, plus playoffs?

Greene is the de facto number-one because LaDainian Tomlinson is a year older.  After a fantastic start to 2010, Tomlinson’s production predictably dipped as the season wore on, though he remained a valuable option in spots and was an important safety valve for Sanchez as a receiver out of the backfield, especially on 3rd down.  This will be the 32-year old’s only role in 2011, and rightfully so.

Beyond Greene and Tomlinson are nothing but question marks.  Joe McKnight could barely handle training camp last season, forcing the Jets to put him at the mercy of Mike Westhoff on special teams.  Rex even toyed around with the idea that McKnight could play cornerback.  Aside from his monster performance in the meaningless Week 17 game vs. the hapless Bills, McKnight has shown the Jets absolutely nothing that should make them comfortable about him as their third-best running back.  If Greene or Tomlinson is injured, can McKnight fill either player’s void effectively enough?

Beyond McKnight is Bilal Powell, who thus far in camp has yet to really challenge McKnight for the third spot on the depth chart.  It’s early, but how much can the Jets realistically expect out of the rookie?

The Jets’ shift to a more passing-oriented offense is both exciting and nerve-wracking.  Plaxico Burress has already tweaked an ankle, Jerricho Cotchery waits in limbo, and we all know Brian Schottenheimer’s playbook often leaves a lot to be desired, especially in the passing game.  The Jets are still going to need a strong running game, probably one that ranks in the top 10 of the league, in order to get where they want to go this season.  Time (and injuries) will tell if that’s a realistic goal.

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