With the second installation in Jets 101's ongoing breakdown of the New York Jets 2011 roster, we take a look at the guys who will be in the backfield with Mark Sanchez. There is a lot of young talent in the Jets' group of running backs and fullbacks.
The main asset in this group for the Jets is Shonn Greene. Greene is expected to be the workhorse this season, with Rex Ryan saying he would like to keep LaDainian Tomlinson fresh for third downs. Green has also improved his receiving, and now looks to be a factor catching the ball out of the backfield as well. The combination of Green and Tomlinson gives the Jets a nice mix of power and elusiveness, youth a veteran leadership. The only real question with these two is: Who will get the goal line carries? The younger, bigger, more powerful back, or one of the best scorers in the NFL?
Behind those two, the Jets bring back Joe McKnight, who had a quiet rookie season with the green and white. In addition to McKnight the Jets have rookie running back Bilal Powell out of Louisville. McKnight is expected to contribute a bit more to the offense and be moved around in different positions this season, potentially having a real impact as a player in specific packages. Powell's role is uncertain, but he will likely be a special team and mop-up back at best this season, with his main value being as an insurance policy.
Perhaps the rookie that created the most buzz last year, fullback John Conner, loves to hit people. It was noted by many during the first contact practice of the preseason that Conner was especially excited, dishing out quite a bit of punishment to his teammates. He spent last year as a special team player and learned from one of the best to ever play the position, Tony Richardson. Richardson is now gone, and Conner is expected to fill the fullback spot. The only question is how much the fullback will be used in the Jets offense, especially with so many other weapons.
The full breakdown:
Shonn Greene: No matter who is playing wide receiver for the Jets, this is a running team that is going to pound the football. this season, that means more Shonn Greene. Some were disappointed in him last season, but I see that as a result of inflated expectations that were unreasonable. Often a rookie can come in without much pressure and perform well, which leads people to believe his progression will be linear and he will take off in his second year. I see Greene's 2010 as a lateral step, or at worst a half-step back, in his progression, and I fully expect him to take a big step forward this season. His improved hands should be a nice addition to the Jets offense, and behind a very good offensive line he can do major damage. He is a physical runner that can punish a defense over four quarters.
LaDainian Tomlinson: Tomlinson is almost the perfect compliment to Greene. He is elusive, a veteran presence in the backfield, and a proven receiver. Tomlinson is getting older, and the Jets will do what they can to keep him fresh. His pay cut this offseason was telling of the decline in the Jets' reliance on him to produce. He can still have an impact as a third-down back, but likely would not be able to handle a full-time workload.
Joe McKnight: McKnight was somewhat embattled and unproductive last season, getting off to a very slow start and never really putting himself in a position to have any impact on the team. This year he figures to be an option as a returner on special teams, in addition to being used in different packages where the Jets can emphasize his skill set.
Bilal Powell: When Powell was drafted into the Jets backfield mix, he was placed into a crowded battle for playing time on a team with a lot of weapons worthy of big-time touches at other positions as well. Still, the Jets thought highly enough of him to use a fourth-round pick on him, and he has enough talent to make the roster. Powell is a nice backup plan in case anything happens to Shonn Greene, as Tomlinson is too old, and Joe McKnight doesn't have the frame to carry the ball as an every-down back. Powell also seems to fare pretty well in blitz pickup, which is a big deal for running backs at the professional level.
John Conner: "The Terminator" is on this team to dish out some punishment. Mike Westhoff uses him on special teams to dish out some big hits and create opportunities in the return game, and I expect that may carry over to the offensive gameplan a bit this season. With a little creativity Conner can be used in different packages to create some opportunities for the running backs to get some open space and make some big plays. He will also be used near the goal line to create some push for the running backs to sneak into the end zone.
Brian Toal: Toal is playing fullback for the Jets after spending his collegiate career at Boston College as a linebacker. He is a physical player who plays the game hard, and has already been in a skirmish or two during training camp. Toal is a tough, hard-nosed guy who is likely a practice squad player, but could potentially make a name for himself on special teams.
Nothing has been lost from the crop of running backs the Jets featured in 2010, with McKnight expected to take on a greater role in the offense. The addition of Powell gives the Jets added depth. The loss of Tony Richardson is felt more from a leadership standpoint, as the fullback was used rarely by offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. Hopefully Conner soaked up as much information as possible, as his pure physical attributes give him the potential to be a crushing blocker that can have a real impact.
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