EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — The New York Giants’ decision to make Ahmad Bradshaw their featured running back this season isn’t so controversial anymore.
In fact, Tom Coughlin and offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride are looking pretty good with that choice.
Seven games into the season, Bradshaw is leading the NFL in rushing with 708 yards on 134 carries, a 5.3 yard average.
That’s 24 more yards than Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson, and 46 more than Tennessee’s Chris Johnson, who has played one fewer game, and it’s probably a lot more than anyone picking a fantasy team this season expected from Bradshaw.
“I couldn’t say I’m surprised, but I mean it was a goal that I set for myself at the beginning of the year,” Bradshaw said. “It’s something I really worked hard for. Just having this opportunity to be a starter and being able to be at the top of the list is a big achievement for me right now.”
Coming into training camp, no one really expected Bradshaw to be the Giants’ starter. Big Brandon Jacobs had been the No. 1 running back since Tiki Barber retired after the 2006 season and there was no reason to expect a change.
Jacobs was the big pounding back who seemed to set things up for the more elusive Bradshaw, who played all last season despite injuries to both feet and an ankle, all of which required surgery in the offseason.
When training camp opened, Bradshaw worked with the starting unit and that has not changed.
“We always knew he had the potential,” running backs coach Gerald Ingram said Wednesday as the Giants prepared to head into the bye week tied with Atlanta for the best record (5-2) with an NFC.
“The more carries you get as a running back, the better you are,” Ingram said. “He is just now at the point where he just wants to be fed. He wants that on his back. He wants to be guy who makes a difference with what he does. He wants to win and that shows it in how hard he runs.”
Bradshaw’s style has given the Giants’ offense a new dimension this season. Unlike Jacobs who used his size and strength to pick a hole and plow into it, the 5-foot-9 Bradshaw is a back who has the quick feet and great vision to find a hole where there seemingly is none.
Bradshaw has picked up his game in the Giants’ four-game winning streak, rushing for at least 126 yards in three of the four games.
“If you study running backs, there is no hole you are designed to go through,” Ingram said. “If the defense takes the first hole, you go to the next hole and then the next. If there is nothing, you hope you have a guy who can create magic. So there are times he is making magic happen out there. That’s what makes him special.”
What also makes Bradshaw special is his toughness and determination. He played 15 games last season with foot and ankle injuries that would have sidelined most players.
During the week, he barely practiced and then would show up on Sundays and play.
“He is a testimony of what one individual can handle, physically because I know I couldn’t,” Ingram said. ” … He is one of those guys if I have to go into a back alley with, you’re the first guy I take, the first.”
If there is a concern for the Giants it’s how long Bradshaw’s feet and ankles hold out. He came into this season with 253 carries since being drafted in the seventh round out of Marshall in 2007. He has carried 134 times this season.
Gilbride said he does not intend to put Bradshaw on a pitch count. If the defense gives the Giants the run, they are going to take it and give the ball to Bradshaw.
“I am still holding my breath whether he is going to be able to last the entire year, but right now, knock on wood, he is playing great football for us,” Gilbride said. “He gives you an inspirational quality for us because of how hard he plays. He blocks hard, he run hard. Everything he does is with great determination and effort. It is hard for his teammates to look at him and not be affected in a positive way.”
The only negative for the Giants is that Bradshaw has fumbled four times this season, with most coming because he is trying so hard to get an extra yard or two.
“He runs mean and angry and he is ready to fight everybody off with his hands and whoever is in the way,” Ingram said. “Now he just has to learn to be smarter.”
Bradshaw plans to head back to Marshall this weekend for Homecoming, knowing he will arrive as the No. 1 running back in the league.
“I can’t say it’s surprising just because I knew what I can do,” he said. “But like I said, these guys are great backs and it’s a joy to be up there up with them.”
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.