Camp Countdown '10: Backfield
This position presents a situation that the Jets have not really seen too often in the recent past. Since the Jets signed Curtis Martin back in 1998, fans have kind of grown accustomed to stability at the position. Martin was the unquestioned starter from 98 thru 2005. From 2007 thru 2009, Thomas Jones and Leon Washington were the two heads of the position. Now it is unknown as to what the Jets will be doing here and who will fit what role.
Shonn Greene showed some real explosion last year when he got the chance to see the field. Greene is a really physical player that seems to relish the ability to collide with and try to run over other players. He brings a physicality to the Jets running game that they have not had in a very long time. He shows very good speed, can make people miss, and looks to have big play potential. However, there are a lot of questions surrounding Greene. At the top of the list is injuries. He was injured in camp last season and got beat up in his limited role last year and was forced to leave the AFC Championship game with an injury. There are going to be concerns as to whether or not he can handle a full workload. Greene also had some problems holding onto the football last year and is no threat at all in the passing game.
LaDainian Tomlinson takes over the veteran role as the steady and safe option. Tomlinson is a Hall of Fame player, but the Jets are not getting a Hall of Famer. There are a lot of people throughout the league that say Tomlinson is finished as a pro. He has lost his explosiveness and his ability to make people miss. He is a player the Jets will be watching carefully in camp as he is in a position where can earn a number of jobs. He could wind up as a starter splitting carries with Greene. He could be a situational player coming in around the goalline or on his side of the field where the Jets value good hands over talent. He could be a third down back utilized strictly in passing sets. Tomlinson will show the team what role he can fill once camp begins. Tomlinson is coming into a better situation that the one he was in out in San Diego where he clashed with the coach and ran behind a poor offensive line, so he should play better than last season. Expect him to get more work than a veteran back would normally get in camp.
Joe McKnight was drafted this year basically to be the down the line replacement for Washington. McKnight is an explosive player, especially in the open field, but has been accused of being lazy and not dedicated in college. McKnight already got a taste of what the media is like in NY as he was probably the most over analyzed fourth round draft pick of all time when he performed poorly at his rookie camp. He can certainly stake a claim to being a part of the rotation, but he might be looked at as a bit more of a down the line contributor than immediate contributor. He may play a role similar to Greene last season, where he gets his chance late in the year after learning more about the game on the sidelines.
The Jets are also carrying Chauncey Washington and Danny Woodhead on the team. Washington was a late season signing, probably brought in because the Jets knew Jones was hurting and they needed a body. When Greene exploded, a player like Washington had basically no place on the team. Woodhead was the feel good story in 2009 as he played the role of “Rudy”, being the little guy with the big heart that makes a football team. Woodhead made a few catches out of the backfield as a replacement for Leon Washington, but did not show much as a runner. The Jets also tried him as a slot receiver last season, but seemed to abandon that experiment with him. It will be interesting to see if the Jets give him the same opportunities in the preseason as he received last year if McKnight remains healthy.
The Jets actually have three fullbacks on the roster as they head into camp. The Jets are usually not a FB friendly offense so there may only be room for one player to make the team. Tony Richardson has the long NFL career on his side and has been here for the last two seasons. He still is an adequate blocker and can be effective as a surprise ball carrier once every two or three games. But he is older, does not fit into the Jets future plans, and was considering retirement after last season. Draft pick John Conner grades out as a good inline blocker that plays aggressively when clearing out space for the runner. Being a draft pick does not guarantee him a spot, but it certainly helps. Richardson should be invaluable as a teacher for Conner, as he is one of the few remaining true blocking backs in the league. Jason Davis actually made the team out of camp last year for about two days before being waived. He spent the year on the practice squad, but looks to be the odd man out in this grouping.
How many will the Jets actually carry is the question. Last season they carried six between the active roster and the practice squad, but that was a high number for the team due to the offensive style they planned on running. The Jets expect to pass more this year meaning six may be too many. Greene, Tomlinson, and McKnight are all locks to make the team. Conner should have the edge at Fullback. Would the Jets cut Richardson? Probably not. He is one of those players that is respected enough to where they likely would not do it. They may convince him to retire, but if he wants to play football he will most likely make the club. If Richardson makes the team that probably means nobody else will make it. There is a chance they could carry one of the players with eligibility remaining on the practice squad, but five should be enough for the team. If Richardson retires and the order going into camp is probably Woodhead, Davis, and then Washington, with special teams and preseason performance being the deciding factor. Those three will need to stand out in some regard to force the Jets to carry five active players. If they do not show anything special expect the main four to make the team.
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