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Green Lantern: Jets’ Running Game Will Be A Sum Of Many Unproven Parts

With Ivory Injured And Goodson AWOL, A Year Wiser Powell Again The Man
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The Jets’ Bilal Powell, right, rushes against the Rams at the Edward Jones Dome on Nov. 18, 2012 in St. Louis, Mo. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

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By Jeff Capellini, WFAN.com

Assuming neither Mark Sanchez nor Geno Smith emerge as the real deal at quarterback to start the season, the Jets have to do something at least average to above average on offense to keep them competitive.

They cannot rely on this defense to carry them exclusively. That’s not to say the unit won’t be good, but it has nearly as many unanswered questions as the offense does. And while the fans can look at the defense and be confident, mostly because Rex Ryan always seems to figure out a way, you just can’t at this point assume it will be a given.

So, somehow, some way, the Jets are going to have to either score points or be really good at controlling the clock. It would be preferable they do both, but right now beggars really ought to stop pretending they’re choosers.

The idea at running back was to have newcomer Chris Ivory lower his shoulder into the world and Mike Goodson complement him in the short yardage game and become that pass-catching force out of the backfield the Jets have not had very much of over the last 10 years, save for flashes from LaDainian Tomlinson.

But one look at the Jets’ roster right now reveals something familiar — Bilal Powell at the top of the depth chart. At this point, Ryan and Marty Mornhinweg have no choice but to put their trust in a player who may be short on ability comparatively, but without question got better as last season wore on.

Ivory should eventually lay claim to the starting spot and be the beast many assumed he’d become even prior to the Jets sending a fourth-round pick to New Orleans for his services during the offseason. People drooled after watching the video clips online. Their eyes popped out of their heads when they saw his career 5.1 yards-per-carry average. They also knew he was in a crowded backfield with the Saints.

But what they may not have known was the only reason why that backfield was crowded was because Ivory couldn’t stay healthy.

As is the case right now during his first training camp with the Jets.

My honest opinion is Ivory’s hamstring will be ready to go Week 1 against Tampa Bay. But if you are expecting to see him much during the preseason games you should find something else to fixate on. The Jets are going to take every precaution they can to minimize the chances of Ivory suffering a more serious injury and missing significant time.

Because, like I said, until a quarterback steps to the fore and becomes something more than a lightning rod of controversy, the Jets have to be an elite running team, which they are capable of when healthy because they potentially have the horses to carry the ball and the studs up front to open the holes.

Goodson, despite his many problems, should be one of those horses.

We know all about his arrest for gun and drug possession, but he’ll have his day in court and those distractions should not impact his availability to the Jets, at least in the short term. However, he has yet to report to camp, and while Ryan and Goodson’s attorneys have intimated that his absence has nothing to do with his arrest, the fact remains Goodson is not in Cortland establishing himself as the 1B running back.

And that’s good for absolutely no one, except maybe Powell.

The question is, if need be, can Powell be the guy for the Jets over an extended period of time? I honestly don’t know, but I do know the Jets should be thankful he’s around. Not because he’s great, but because he shows they designed this roster for both predictable and unforeseen developments at the position, an approach that had been in short supply over the previous two seasons.

It shows that new general manager John Idzik’s blueprint for building a team has legs. Think about it. The Jets don’t have their two best running backs currently on the field, but still have a starter from a previous season to turn to for the time being.

Trust me, the Jets would never have had this kind of backup in previous seasons.

But every great plan has a threshold. The Jets simply cannot afford anymore injuries, or mysterious sabbaticals, at running back.

For now, it’s Powell’s gig to lose.  He impressed during the Green & White Scrimmage on Saturday, with a few nice runs and one highlight reel gain on a screen pass. Ryan seemed to breathe a sigh of relief when it was over, probably because Powell actually walked off the field.

“It was good to see Bilal, and he made a couple of great plays, so we know what kind of back Bilal is,” Ryan said.  “But I think now, obviously, with the opportunities he has been given, he has really taken the reins.”

Powell said he expects the Jets to put together long, time-consuming drives regardless of who the quarterback or starting running backs end up being.

“That should be our mindset every game every day,” Powell said. “Because, like I said, we’re going to take every opportunity to get better and I’m excited to get the season going.”

And let’s not forget, the longer Ivory and Goodson stay out, the bigger the opportunity there will be for Joe McKnight and John Griffin to stake their claims to spots on the 53-man roster.  Griffin, a second-year back out of UMass, didn’t touch the ball once from scrimmage last season, but he’s getting a ton of work at camp. McKnight seems to always be an injury waiting to happen, which is currently the case due to concussion-like symptoms developed during a practice late last week. And it almost certainly facilitated the Jets signing unknown Mossis Gadu, who had been with Tampa Bay.

Until Ivory is 100 percent, Powell will remain the clubhouse leader for the start in the opener, but at worst will be in position to be the 1B, which in today’s NFL is a very important role. And given Ivory’s penchant for the nagging injury, it’s possible Powell, once an after thought, could end up being as vital a part of this Jets offense as anyone.

So there is something to say here about perseverance and how it coincides with chance. Powell has seemed to show a sticktuitive-ness, and over time it will resonate with the fans. Despite his largely underwhelming statistics the last two seasons, Powell has a real chance here to become a fan favorite, a player once counted out that had the light go on. A player who put his nose down and focused solely on becoming the best player he can be, regardless of all those around him, especially in the media and among a cross section of the fan base, who don’t look at him as anything more than a guy moving up the depth chart due to many others’ misfortune.

But if the Jets can somehow rise above their low expectations, with this offense becoming something more than a punch line, there could be a high probability that Powell will find himself right in the middle of it as a very important contributing part.

At some point the cavalry will arrive, but until then Powell has few obstacles in his way to prevent him from showing he’s a lot more valuable to the Jets than many once figured.

He’s been granted an opportunity to prove that he can be the guy, even if many look at him as nothing more than simply a healthy body.

This is the type of guy you root for, and more often than not turns into the player that ends up surprising everyone.

Read more columns by Jeff Capellini and follow him on Twitter at @GreenLanternJet

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