Camp Countdown '09: Backfield
The backfield has given the New York Jets beat reporters and fans plenty to talk about in 2009. Incumbent starter Thomas Jones sat out almost all OTA’s due to a contract dispute with the team. Jones, set to make $900,000, wants a long term extension which the Jets were smart not to give to a 31 year old back. Backup Leon Washington followed suit, pulling himself out of the offseason workout program for a few weeks in hopes of getting a new deal. While Jones was silent during his time away from the team, Washington’s agent Alvin Keels provided plenty of news stories with his strange tweeting about contract negotiations with the Jets. In the midst of all of the this, the Jets jumped up to the start of the 3rd round of the NFL draft, nabbing powerhouse RB Shonn Greene from Iowa, a clear shot at Jones’ role as starter on the team. Also returning to the team is veteran FB Tony Richardson, who remains one of the best blockers in the NFL.
How this all plays out during the season will have a major impact on the teams fortunes, as they will likely look to run the ball often in 2009. This is expected to be a strength of the team and the one part of the offense they can count on to move the football. While most players involved in contract disputes often are able to leave their money issues at home come game day, Jones has shown a tendency to be distracted at times in his career. Jones is not an exciting player, doesn’t break big runs, and is hitting an age where he is likely to slow down. He doesn’t put the ball on the ground often and will typically give a consistent effort each and every week, but there is an outside chance the Jets could look to trade him if his gripes about his contract seem to drag into training camp. He is coming off the best season of his career and expecting anything close to that again is unrealistic, especially at his age.
Washington is a dynamic player that was able to break huge runs last season when the game was somewhat chaotic. Washington is also dangerous in the passing game, but is a liability when asked to block. He is a dangerous weapon, but there are questions as to whether he can be a 15 carry a game player or if he is a 7 carry a game player. This is more of less the crux of the contract dispute as the Jets don't seem to value him as a half the carries back. Washington has been feast or famine at times with the likelihood of a 5 carry 10 yard game being almost as good as a 5 carry 80 yard game. The Jets need him to be dynamic this season as he is the only big play threat the team has on offense.
Greene is the wildcard in all of this. Greene is the type of bruising back that coach Bill Callahan, who more or less designs the running game, loves to use in short yardage situations. The Jets have not had this type of potential player in ages. Greene would look to be the perfect compliment to the speedy Washington. He is a between the tackles runner with a punishing style. He has almost no value in the passing game which would be the spot for Washington to take over and present a totally different look. Greene’s progression will likely make a major impact on the future of the club.
Richardson returns as the starting fullback of the offense and was a strong addition to the Jets last season. His contributions often went unnoticed last season, but he was a huge reason why the Jets running game improved so much. Rounding out the roster is speedy Danny Woodhead and bruiser Jehuu Caulcrick. Woodhead spent last season on the injured reserve with a leg injury while Caulcrick was a Jets practice squad player. Woodhead is intriguing because of his burst and small size. He benefited from the stars holding out of OTAs and was able to get himself noticed by a new staff, but will likely have to make himself known on special teams if he wants a position on the team. With Jim Leonhard fielding punts and Washington a pro bowl return man, Woodhead may have a tough time making it. Caulcrick looks to be a long shot. He never got called up last season and Greene, who the team has much more invested in, would look to fit the same type of role.
The Jets need their top three players to have an outstanding year if they want to win. The Jets will likely want to run the ball at least 500 times next season, meaning there should be plenty of carries to go around to keep everyone happy. In an ideal world the Jets would like to see Jones and Washington be the primary split in the first three quarters and then give the rock to Greene in the 4th quarter to just pound the tired defense and run out the clock. If Greene ends up bombing in that role and Jones averages 3.9 yards per carry while looking disinterested the offense is going to be the worst in the NFL, no questions asked. But if the Jets can get that average up to 4.5+ YPC and get a few big plays from Washington sprinkled in, this has the makings of one of the top rushing units in the NFL.