By Jeff Capellini, WFAN.com
NEW YORK (WFAN) — The Jets need to face reality. If they hope to once again have the NFL’s most fearsome ball-control offense they should really consider getting Shonn Greene some help.
Clearly I understand that training camp is all of a handful of days old and a lot can can happen between now and the season opener, but the Jets are already practicing like they plan on running more than 600 running plays this season. I didn’t just make the number up out of some desire to over-emphasize the obvious. If you do the math, listen to the press conferences and look at their blueprint, the Jets could be a team that literally hands the ball off or does not have the intention of throwing a pass 40 times per game.
To do this, and forget for a second that the notion completely flies in the face of what the NFL is now — a league that lives and dies on big-armed quarterbacks and big-play wide receivers, they will need to have serious depth at the running back position. I’m not talking about a horse starter, a shifty third-down back and maybe one or two guys that could steal a carry or two once in a while. They already have that.
They need a trusted and proven 1A back or they will in all likelihood get Greene exploited or killed, and who knows in which order.
During one practice session over the weekend the Jets ran 22 consecutive running plays. Maybe they were just kicking the tires to get a broad overview of what they have both in the backfield and along the offensive line. Maybe they wanted to give the throngs of reporters something else to consider writing about beyond Tim Tebow’s million-dollar chest and bargain basement arm. Or maybe they already know the obvious and just wanted to be sure. Regardless of their intentions, the Jets have to figure Greene needs more than just an understudy, something Terrance Ganaway and Bilal Powell can easily be, provided they aren’t thrust into scenarios of significance.
So, enter who, exactly?
I think Greene gets a bad rap. Yes, he’s not a prototypical running back. He’s much more about smashing the opposition into submission than he is a player who will run away from defenses. Lost in the chaos that was the final three games of the Jets’ 2011 season was the fact that Greene had his first 1,000-yard season. He averaged roughly 16 carries per game. He’s probably better suited getting the ball 20-22 times per game, but because the Jets made a major philosophical change to begin the season, one that ultimately didn’t work out, Greene’s overall number of carries weren’t as many as they should have been.
He had 51 carries for just 157 yards over the season’s first four weeks. You could say the offensive line’s woes played into the decision to make him a bit player, but in reality the Jets still had this notion that Mark Sanchez was a 4,000-yard passer. Over the next four weeks, mostly due to the fact that Rex Ryan finally realized the error of his ways, Greene recorded 81 carries for 357 yards. However, for whatever reason, he had just 51 carries for 237 yards over his next four games, but then closed the season with 70 carries for 315 yards over the final four weeks.
The point is the more Greene gets the ball the better he plays, but considering how much the Jets have said they plan to run this season — coupled with Greene’s build, speed and glaring inability to catch the ball out of the backfield, which fits into the ever-growing and significant “touches” dynamic — he clearly will need help. And there is no indication that Ganaway, a back drafted in the sixth round, likely for a reason (he’s not Terrell Davis, just as an example), or Powell, a player who had all of 13 carries for 21 yards last season and who didn’t do much, if anything, during the offseason to command belief (I can’t remember one story suggesting he felt he felt he needed to prove anything), can be the type of complimentary back to Greene that the Jets will definitely need.
Okay, so what about Tebow? Someone has to ask it. The Jets have hinted that in addition to backing up Sanchez, playing on special teams and, perhaps, coordinating fan-player meet and greets after games, he’ll also be a running back out of traditional offensive sets.
I have to say I’m not in love with this idea, unless you are telling me he’ll be used in short-yardage, i.e. at the goal line, or as a decoy. If the Jets really plan on turning Tebow loose to do a little bit of everything, getting 10-15 carries per game doesn’t figure to make much if any sense. God forbid he gets hurt. God forbid Sanchez gets hurt. Do we really want to see the Greg McElroy era begin? I know some like that kid, but I think if he was really that good Tebow wouldn’t be on this team, regardless of how many jerseys and additional tickets his mere presence suggests should be sold.
I maintain that Tebow the running back should in all likelihood be out of wildcat formations. Tebow’s strengths lie in his abilities to improvise with his legs, mostly out of misdirection, which is the backbone of what the wildcat suggests. You line Tebow up repeatedly out of traditional sets and he loses that unpredictability that makes him so dangerous.
So, again, you need a yard, sure, hand the ball off to Tebow. You want to avoid 3rd and longs, put Tebow in a position to succeed, not to be the obvious ball carrier.
So who could this 1A running back be, now that I’ve tried to convince you he’s currently not on the Jets’ roster? Well, the obvious choice is Cedric Benson, a guy currently without a job for reasons that really revolve around money. Benson may be 30, but he’s coming off three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons with the Bengals, and, like Greene, is a big, bruising back that gets better with more work. If Greene is nicked up or struggling, this guy could easily spell him for series at a time. And unlike Greene, Benson has closer’s speed. No one is going to confuse him with Chris Johnson in the open field, but he can certainly help end games and has that battering ram mentality. In addition, he’s a better receiver out of the backfield than Greene.
I realize Benson has had problems holding onto the football as he’s fumbled seven times over the past two seasons, but knowing all the upside he could bring to a team that needs precisely his skill set, the Jets would be smart to take a minor risk. All they need to do is feign looking over their roster for at most another week and then they will hold the hammer and likely could get him for the veteran minimum, provided, of course, some other team isn’t thinking exactly as I am.
If not Benson, then who? Joseph Addai was just cut by the Patriots after failing his conditioning test. I don’t know about you, but that’s a major red flag to me. Ryan Grant? He’s a local kid with something to prove following injuries and dismissal from Green Bay.
If nothing else, the Jets should be monitoring both Benson and Grant because various reports have said the Redskins have interest, and we all know owner Dan Snyder’s penchant for patience and writing checks. The Jets would be right to strike for either one now or else run the risk of putting all their eggs in the baskets of Ganaway and Powell, players who have yet to even prove they have upside, let alone the ability to be even serviceable at the NFL level.
The Jets just have too much riding on their running game. They shouldn’t be overly coy. Get Greene some help.
And do it soon.
Please read more columns by Jeff Capellini and follow him on Twitter at @GreenLanternJet.
Do you think the Jets have enough in the backfield to go to war this season? Or should they explore acquiring another player? Please offer your thoughts in the comments section below …