Make no mistake about it – the New York Jets have a full fledged position battle at the running back position.
On one hand, the Jets have a bright young prospect in Shonn Greene who is entering only his second season in the NFL. Although his playing time has been brief (only 108 career rushing attempts), he has shown the potential to be a very explosive back who could lead the Jets ground game for many years to come. It was that potential which led the Jets to release last season’s starter, Thomas Jones.
That is a very impressive vote of confidence from the Jets organization, because Thomas Jones was the top rusher on the league’s top rushing team. He accounted for more than 1,400 yards (third most in the NFL) and 14 touchdowns on the ground. But, the Jets decided to go with a relatively unproven kid who has only 540 yards and two touchdowns to his credit.
Do not confuse that vote of confidence with blind faith, though. The Jets are not so foolish as to put all the eggs into one basket. That is why the team signed free agent LaDanian Tomlinson.
Yes, Tomlinson’s numbers were down last season, and he has had injury problems in recent years. But despite one of those injuries last season, and the increased emphasis that the Chargers placed on Philip Rivers and the passing game, Tomlinson still turned in a top-level performance, scoring 12 touchdowns (fifth most in the league) on only 223 rushing attempts. Although guys like Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson may have found the end zone more times than Tomlinson did, they also had as many as 100 more rushing attempts in which to do so.
Nobody is kidding themselves into believing that Tomlinson will continue to perform in 2010 the way he did when he broke the single-season rushing touchdown record back in 2006; but he is a guaranteed future Hall-of-Famer whose performance even in “bad” seasons is still better than what most other running backs in the league hope to achieve in their best years.
Finally, as if that weren’t already enough to grapple with, the Jets added rookie Joe McKnight out of Southern Cal, a player who ran for over 1,000 yards for the Trojans last season.
Although head coach Rex Ryan has publicly stated that he intends to use a by-committee approach to his rushing game plan, there are still questions about how that game plan will be implemented, and which running back will serve which role.
Will snaps be shared evenly among the two (or three) backs, or will one receive the lion’s share? Will one be dubbed the “starter” with the others relegated to a supporting role, or will they be on truly even ground?
Perhaps the biggest question is about which back Ryan will look to in goal line situations. For his part, Greene is a power back who runs straight ahead with a punishing force and could manage to power his way into the end zone. Realistically, there are not many running backs in the history of the game with a better nose for the end zone than Tomlinson.
These are a lot of questions that have yet to be answered, especially considering this dilemma comes on the heels of a season where the Jets boasted the league’s top rushing offense. The best running game, and then the team WILLINGLY parted ways with the two of the three men who get most of the credit for that success. It makes for the single most exciting (and important) position battle of the entire NFL pre-season.