On the Verge: Jackson will be a weapon in '08

Running back Fred Jackson came out of nowhere last season to give Buffalo's offense a late-season lift. But next season, look for the Bills to use him much more in a two-back system. Read on for the details...

What was once a crafty offensive strategy has quickly extrapolated into the norm.

Those that don't have it, want it – generously investing first-round draft picks to chase it.

The two-headed monster at running back. Workhorse running backs are about as trendy as pet rocks and Chia Pets. An old fad. Increased mileage leads to a short shelf-life, which leads to wasted money (Think Seattle regrets giving Shaun Alexander that $62 million deal two years ago?). In fact, the two-back attack really kicked into high gear the season Alexander won MVP and was beaten in the Super Bowl by Pittsburgh's combo of Willie Parker and Jerome Bettis. The past three Super Bowl winners all churned with two running backs sharing the load.

It takes two.

After finally letting Willis McGahee (his obnoxious agent, obnoxious big yap and overrated hesitant running style) walk out of town, the Bills are embracing this blueprint for success. Sure, Fred Jackson only received 58 carries last season. But in limited action, Jackson teased enough to suggest that Buffalo is slowly reaching the ballpark of Jacksonville and the N.Y. Giants. The Bills' off-season movement (or lack thereof) also suggests they're comfortable with a run-first scheme – anchored by Marshawn Lynch and Jackson.

The landscape has been set.

The offensive line was solidified last year after two mega contracts and the emergence of the brightest left tackle in the league.

The pounder, Marshawn Lynch, proved as talented as advertised.

The offense (particularly the WR corps) was ignored through free agency, as the defense added three starters instead.

And of course, a young sophomore enters his first season ever as the Buffalo Bills' starting quarterback.

In short, Buffalo will be a grind-it-out team. A team that aims to ease its young QB, Trent Edwards, into the league. No baptism by fire here. Second-round pick James Hardy was a key signing, but new offensive coordinator Turk Schonert won't throw the ball 35 times a game. Instead, Lynch and Jackson – two physical backs that relish contact – will become the offense's identity. Throw in sixth-round pick Xavier Omon (scored 98 touchdowns in Division II) into the mix, and Buffalo's running game is suddenly one of the youngest and most talented in the AFC.

But Jackson is the key. Lynch's productivity is a near-guarantee. His relentless running style with a hint of breakaway speed ensures he's a 1,000-yard fixture. But Jackson is the wild card. In limited touches, the textbook "out of nowhere" Jackson was dominant. More than five yards per carry, 22 receptions, one 54-yard catch-and-run…the flickers of brilliance propped up throughout last season.

Take Buffalo's season-defining, 17-16 win at an emotional FedEx Field in Washington D.C. Following the death of Sean Taylor, the Redskins played inspired. But Jackson – just some random street pickup with nine career carries at the time – rose above the adversity. The undrafted running back rushed for 82 yards on 16 carries, while also catching four passes for 69 yards. He was the only offensive threat on the Bills' offense. Lynch was hurt and Lee Evans was neutralized. On one second-quarter run, Jackson took an inside handoff and the middle lane was congested so he bounced to the left edge. The 6-foot-1, 215-pound load reached another gear and whizzed past three fast defenders (Marcus Washington, cornerback Fred Smoot and London Fletcher) for 22 yards, even though all three had favorable tackling angles at him.

Fred Jackson breaks loose at Washington
Getty Images

And Jackson' veteran-like vision meshed well with Buffalo's refurbished O-Line. Against Miami, Jackson tucked behind a double-pull from newcomers Derrick Dockery and Langston Walker on a play designed to wash down the right side. But the blocks were too efficient. Jackson stopped on a dime and cut upfield between three Dolphins. He saw an acre of green out of his left eye and completely changed his direction to the left to complete a 21-yard gain on his 115-yard day.

Versatility for Jackson's size is rare, and should be utilized more often. Jackson was merely a late-season token in 2007. It's as if Jackson was the unexpected $20 bill in Dick Jauron's pocket. Part of Jauron probably wishes he interjected more in Steve Fairchild's offense in Buffalo's playoff push. Jackson was only given 18 rushes over the last three games, and Cleveland, New York and Philadelphia each won the battle of the trenches.

But with an entire off-season of work within Schonert's scheme and with the Bills' offensive line (unified for its second straight year), Jackson will be molded into more of an offensive mainstay. The Bills didn't shell out millions for wideouts and tight ends during free agency to make Edwards' life easier. That was the logical off-season game plan.

But the front office has a vision for the team's identity. Win at the offensive and defensive lines, and let a once no-name like Jackson benefit from it. The Coe College-grad is a weapon worth 10-15 carries a game, and Buffalo will have itself the two-headed monster teams are breaking the bank on.

All five running backs drafted in the first round last week went to teams with solid starters already (Justin Fargas, DeAngelo Williams, Marion Barber, Willie Parker and LenDale White). All five rookies will demand multi-million contracts. That's money on top of money at the same position.

Buffalo's situation is different. For all Bills' No. 2 man was found in the heap of undrafted free agents with dull resumes. Jackson was an unknown comodity.

But not for long.

Tyler Dunne is the Publisher of the BFR. Contact him at thdunne@gmail.com.

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