The 2010 NFL Training Camp Position Battle Debate… New Faces in New York Beg New Questions

July 28, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Babe Ruthless and Loyal Homer.

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.

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The 2010 NFL Training Camp Position Battle Debate… Who’s Running The Show In KC?

July 28, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Bleacher Fan and Loyal Homer.

Does anyone remember when the Kansas City Chiefs were actually exciting? Believe it or not, there was a time – and not that long ago – when Chiefs’ players were making highlight reel plays nearly every Sunday. If it wasn’t Priest Holmes running wild and setting scoring records, it was Dante Hall acting like the human video game returning every ball kicked his way for a score. Unfortunately for Chiefs fans, those glory days are quickly becoming a distant memory. But for the first time in a long time the Chiefs may have a couple of sparkplugs in the backfield that might actually be worth watching. The position battle between Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones gives football fans a reason to watch Kansas City games again, aside from checking to see how many turnovers the Chiefs coughed up to your fantasy football defense.

Last season, after the Chiefs parted ways with Larry Johnson, Jamaal Charles came on strong in a big way. Out from underneath the shadow of Johnson, Charles proved to be a more than capable starter. Over the course of the last eight games of the season, Charles In Charge ran for more than 950 yards and seven scores. That puts him with the elite company of Mr. 2,000 Yards – Chris Johnson. Project Charles’ numbers out over the course of an entire season and he starts to look even more like CJ. In 2010 Jamaal Charles will finally have the opportunity to shine by leading the Chiefs backfield. Well, sort of.

Charles may be the clear favorite to secure the starting gig, but Thomas Jones is no joke. Last season with the Jets Jones racked up 1,402 yards on a massive 331 carries. That’s not too shabby for a 30 something running back, but what is probably more impressive are the 14 touchdowns Jones punched in for Gang Green. For any doubters who think that Jones was putting up inflated walk year numbers last season, just look at his 2008 stat line. That season Jones put up even better numbers with more than 1,500 all purpose yards and 15 scores. Clearly, 2009 was no fluke. But, can he duplicate that performance running behind KC’s offensive line? Perhaps not, but he would be a solid starter for many teams and is a proven threat to pound in the ball from the red zone.

Given the talent and proven nature of Thomas Jones, he is likely to cut into Charles’ carries. The possibility exists that Jones could even wrestle the starting job away outright should Charles falter out of the gate. Second year head coach Todd Haley has attempted to downplay this scenario as less than a position battle, but there can be little doubt that both backs will being working hard to showcase their skills throughout training camp and the pre-season. They will both jump at the chance to make their cases for playing time. That makes this position battle one to watch during the pre-season and throughout the regular season as well.

Despite their obvious benefits each back has drawbacks as well. Thomas Jones will be 32-years old at the start of the season, and brings a lot of mileage on those veteran legs. Over the past three seasons he has accumulated 931 rushes, and all the wear and tear that goes with that. As Adam Teicher of the Kansas City Star points out, Charles is a much younger back at just 23-years old, even though he has been criticized for not having the size to be an “every-down back.” Together, however, the team has the complete package.

The good news for Kansas City is that there is a formidable one-two punch in the backfield. ESPN.com’s John Clayton compared the duo to the powerful Carolina Panthers tandem of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. At the very least each back serves as an insurance policy for the other. Should one rusher go down due to an injury, the other has proven capable of shouldering a team load of carries on his own. But should they both remain healthy the Chiefs will have a ground attack that will be hard for defensive coordinators to stop, and that is exactly what new offensive coordinator Charlie Weis is counting on. Weis is aware that he has two starters in his backfield, and he will use them accordingly to keep the ground game progressing to keep opposing defenses honest about the passing game.

Normally Kansas City wouldn’t even be a blip on my radar, but the talent of these two backs has caught my attention and figures to intrigue over the next month or two. There might even be a Pro Bowl performance between the two of them. It will all depend on how Haley and Weis use their stud running backs.

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The 2010 NFL QB Insurance Debate… Clausen’s Reliable In A Pickle

July 27, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Bleacher Fan and Sports Geek.

The Carolina Panthers enter the upcoming season with one of the most unproven quarterback units in the NFL. With the departure of longtime signal caller Jake Delhomme, a 25-year old Matt Moore ascended the top of the depth chart and will more than likely begin the season as starter. Still wet behind the ears, Moore must transition from young gun to veteran while he breaks in a receiving corps undergoing changes as well. While rookie receivers Brandon LaFell and Armanti Edwards figure to breathe new life into the seemingly stagnant Carolina passing game, they could also pose hurdles for a young quarterback struggling to come into his own. So, despite being armed to the tooth with stellar weapons on offense – such as the one-two punch of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, plus perennial standout Steve Smith – the Panthers could struggle without an experienced leader under center. But have no fear Panther fans, because the Cardiac Cats have an ace-in-the-hole with rookie quarterback Jimmy Clausen.

Clausen serves as the best insurance quarterback in the NFL for a number of reasons. He’s confident, motivated, and supremely talented. That is a killer combination of attributes for a young quarterback to possess. The Panthers obviously believe in him, too. In fact, Carolina general manager Marty Hurney even tried to trade up in the draft to acquire him even earlier. He is in a great spot in Charlotte. His skill set and the team’s needs seem to be a match made in heaven. Clausen is without a doubt the future of Carolina, but in the meantime he is a terrific backup plan for Matt Moore.

Since Clausen is the future of the team he is obviously more than just a flashy stopgap. For starters, the Panthers appear to be committing to his long term development by allowing him to grow before immediately taking the reins. John Fox and the gang are easing him into the position and are not rushing him into the starting gig prematurely.

Matt Moore led the Panthers to four victories in the last five games in 2009. His emergence as the projected starter for this season allows Clausen to focus on his own development rather than a position battle. It buys the rookie precious time during a crucial stage in his maturation. Currently, the former Notre Dame star sits third on the depth chart behind Moore and former practice squad quarterback Hunter Cantwell. This placement should minimize some of the external pressures that Clausen might feel from the organization to shoulder the team immediately. But, Clausen being the competitor that he is means that he is bound to put plenty of pressure on himself to contribute an succeed right away.

In all likelihood Clausen will surpass Cantwell for the primary backup gig by the end of the pre-season. The team is currently allowing him to progress outside of the spotlight. So far it appears to be paying off. He is already showing signs of maturity and poise. Critics have often labeled his confidence as cockiness, but recently he has avoided the headlines and focused on developing his skills and simply fitting in with teammates.

Of equal, or perhaps even greater, importance to Clausen’s value are the talents and experiences he brings to the position. On a team where experience is in short supply – only eight total NFL starts among all QBs (all of those belong to Moore) – Clausen’s playing time at Notre Dame serves as a valuable substitute. While he may never have played an actual down in the NFL, he did pass through former head coach Charlie Weis’ pro style offense. That should help improve the rookie’s learning curve and make him an even more valuable backup. Mix that with the fact that Panthers’ offensive coordinator Jeff Davidson was a former assistant to Weis, and the kid’s future starts to look even brighter. Clausen said of the transition, “Being in the system with coach Weis, and with coach Davidson coaching with him in New England, it’s the same terms and everything. It definitely helps me a lot.”

I am sure it did not seem like it on draft day, but Clausen could not have found a better home than Carolina.

Of course all the praise remains completely preliminary until he actually plays a down of real NFL football. But, the writing for success is on the wall. That type of upside makes for a stellar backup plan and insurance for an unproven quarterback such as Matt Moore.

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