By Ernie Palladino
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Rashad Jennings, Peyton Hillis, Michael Cox and David Wilson.
Does that make your mouth water? No?
Well, that’s what the Giants’ backfield looked like Tuesday after the news broke that Andre Brown, their leading rusher and goal-line bull, signed a one-year contract with the Houston Texans. Unless something happens at the tail end of free agency or high in the draft, count on the above conglomerate to handle the rushing duties in 2014.
It’s not a particularly pleasant thought. Jennings did have six rushing touchdowns for the Raiders last year, and he did have a healthy per-carry average of 4.5, based on 733 yards on 163 carries. He had a 150-yard game against Houston and a 102-yard game against Philadelphia, but through the first half of the season he never had more than 15 carries and 45 yards in any one game.
Hillis is a tough runner who can catch the ball out of the backfield, as can Jennnings. Michael Cox showed some promise in intermittent offensive use. And then there’s Wilson, whose surgery for a herniated neck disk and spinal stenosis has placed a cloud over his career. Will he come back? Won’t he? Can he be effective, or will he forever be thinking about that neck? Nobody knows for sure despite Wilson‘s concentrated efforts to ready himself for training camp. Therefore, neither Tom Coughlin nor Ben McAdoo — the new, young, offensive coordinator — can truly count on him.
The question, then, revolves around the wisdom of the Giants allowing their February negotiations with Brown to die quietly and eventually lose him. From their standpoint, they had to consider how much they were going to invest in a running back who has a long history of injury that affected last season’s effort. Brown, the team’s leading rusher and rushing touchdown king in 2012, broke his leg in preseason, leaving the bulk of the running duties to Brandon Jacobs.
Once Brown returned, he struggled. Then he fumbled three times in the final four games. That’s not the kind of year that brings big-time payouts.
Still, from a non-business standpoint, it probably hurt to let Brown go. He can catch balls out of the backfield. Under McAdoo’s version of the West Coast offense, that’s going to happen a lot from now on. Those long, downfield shots Eli Manning is so fond of throwing are going to be replaced by screens and dumps and intermediate tosses over the middle. And running backs are going to be at the receiving end of a lot of those.
Had Brown’s injury history not gotten in the way, the Giants probably would have kept him around. But with Wilson questionable to last a season, or even part of one, they needed immediate help. So they went out and got Jennings, by all accounts a solid pickup.
Losing Brown, though, means they could probably use one more quality back, or at least a good draft project once the picking starts May 8 at Radio City. The first-round pick will likely go toward a tight end — 245-pound Eric Ebron of North Carolina — if some of these early draft projections are to be believed. The Giants have a need there, too.
But certainly somewhere down the line they should pick up another running back. And there should be some available. At least one mock draft doesn’t have a single running back going in the first round.
It’s still a shame the Giants had to lose Brown. His bowling-ball body and aggressive style made him a valuable asset when healthy. The problem was he could never stay healthy. From a torn Achilles to broken bones, his own body made him expendable.
What is left may yet be effective. But it’s hardly a depth chart that makes an offensive coordinator’s mouth water.
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