JagNation Training Camp Preview: RB

Entering the '06 season, the Jaguars running back situation was somewhat of a question mark for the team with Greg Jones' torn ACL in the preseason, Fred Taylor's injury history, the lack of effectiveness of Alvin Pearman and LaBrandon Toefield throughout their careers, and especially the small stature of second round pick Maurice Jones-Drew. JagNation outlines the running back situation NOW:

All of those questions were answered positively, as the Jaguars set of running backs were among the best in the NFL, and the best in team history. Entering '07, the Jaguars running game is easily the strength of their offense, and the only questions are how the carries will be split, and what talented running back will not make the roster.

Fred Taylor
Fred Taylor stayed healthy for most of the '06 season, starting 15 games and finishing with 1146 yards while averaging 5.0 yards per carry. The most amazing part is that he did this while splitting considerable time with Maurice Jones-Drew. Taylor showed a nice burst and was as explosive as he's ever been, as he had a long run of 76 yards against Indianapolis. Taylor's strong play in '06 earned him a contract extension in the off-season which will likely keep him as a Jaguar for the rest of his career. Barring any kind of major injury, Taylor will eclipse the 10,000 yard mark for his career early on in the '07 season.

Fred Taylor is one of the best running backs in the entire NFL, still. Taylor is still explosive, he can pick up the blitz, he sheds tackles, and is an all-around franchise back that could find himself in Canton with a few more solid seasons.

Although he hasn't shown any signs of slowing down, Taylor is on the wrong side of 30, where most running backs begin to lose their "mojo". Taylor has had injury concerns in the past, but has played in 73 out of the teams last 81 games. Taylor is only an average pass catcher out of the backfield, and isn't great in short yardage situations.

Best case/Worst case scenarios:
Fred Taylor has another great year splitting carries with Maurice Jones-Drew, and Taylor could be named to his first Pro Bowl. Worst case scenario is that Taylor goes the way of many post-30 year old running backs and loses a step or two.

Maurice Jones-Drew
Maurice Jones-Drew was the surprise of the year for the Jaguars in '06. Jones-Drew set a team record with 2250 all-purpose yards despite starting just one game, and having five games of five carries or less. Jones-Drew also finished third in the NFL with 16 touchdowns, and he finished second in rookie of the year voting behind the "hype-machine" which is Vince Young. Jones-Drew showed explosive speed, with an ability to run people over despite standing just 5'7 tall, and 210 lbs. If Jones-Drew can stay healthy, he can certainly be the new face of the franchise with his super-human running skills and sparkling off the field personality.

There really isn't anything the Maurice Jones-Drew can't do on the football field. He has explosive speed and a low center of gravity which allows him to run around tacklers, or run them over. He catches the ball out of the backfield well, and doesn't miss blocking assignments. Jones-Drew can run inside for tough yards, or break it outside.

Maurice Jones-Drew doesn't really have any weaknesses as a running back. There are some questions if he can handle the bulk of the carries if Taylor goes down, but nothing was shown in the '06 season to prove that he can't.

Best case/Worst case scenarios:
Jones-Drew builds on his great play of last year and finds himself in Hawaii in February. Worst case scenario is that all the success that Jones-Drew had over the last 12 months makes him lose that giant chip on his shoulder.

Greg Jones
Greg Jones was drafted in the second round of '04 to become the Jaguars most versatile fullback in team history. Jones was coming off a torn ACL injury that he suffered in college, and lacked some of the speed that made him a star at FSU. Jones strength and speed improved each season in the NFL, and his career hit a crescendo in 2005 when he filled in for an injury Fred Taylor and averaged nearly 100 yards per game when he was given the bulk of the carries. Expectations were high for Jones in '06, as he came into camp faster than ever, but all of that soon fizzled when he tore his ACL in a preseason game against Tampa Bay. Jones is not expected to be a great factor carrying the ball in '07, as it normally takes 18-24 months for an ACL injury to heal completely. Jones will likely be a short-yardage pounder, who will mostly pave the way blocking for Taylor and Jones-Drew.

Greg Jones biggest strength is...well, strength. He has a body builder's physique, and his muscle mass and quick feet makes him great in short-yardage situations. Jones also has soft hands, and is a great weapon in the passing game out of the backfield.

With two torn ACL's in three years, Jones isn't likely to be anywhere near as fast as he once was, so the thoughts of him being a feature back in the NFL seem somewhat far-fetched.

Best case/Worst case scenarios:
Best case scenario for Jones is that he plays hard, fills in with goal-line and short yardage situations, and paves the way for two 1000-yard rushers. Worst case scenario is that his knee isn't ready for game action and he spends the season on the IR.

LaBrandon Toefield
LaBrandon Toefield is a former fourth-round pick of the Jaguars from 2003, who hasn't quite emerged into the player they thought he would be. Toefield has some solid running skills and an ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, but hasn't been able to find consistent playing time in Jacksonville. Toefield was a free agent this past off-season, but couldn't find work outside of Jacksonville, so he re-signed with the club for one year.

LaBrandon Toefield looks the part of a solid NFL running back, at 5'11 , 232 lbs. Toefield has physical skills, he's quick, and he can be a pounder. Toefield has shown some flashes in limited action, as evidenced by his 102 yard, three touchdown game in the season finale in '05 against Tennessee.

Whereas Toefield is solid, he isn't explosive. He doesn't do any one thing great, and he's trapped amongst probably the deepest stable of running backs in the entire NFL.

Best case/Worst case scenarios:
Toefield's best case scenario is that he finds some playing time early in the preseason and makes the most of it. Perhaps a running back for some team goes down with injury and they trade for him, and he can re-start his career somewhere else. Worst case scenario is that Jones comes back healthy, and one of the other running backs step up and Toefield finds himself unemployed at the end of camp.

Alvin Pearman
Alvin Pearman's role was considerably reduced due to the emergence of Maurice Jones-Drew, and will likely be reduced further due to the signing of Dennis Northcutt to handle the punt-return duties, as Pearman's main role with the Jaguars was that of a punt returner, a role in which he was average, as well as a fill-in third down back. Pearman is a fantastic community guy, but is the epitome of an average football player.

Pearman's biggest strength is his versatility. He can catch the ball out of the backfield, run with some elusiveness, and return punts.

Pearman isn't fast, he's a very average punt returner with no real home-run ability, and he tends to fumble at the worst possible time.

Best case/Worst case scenarios:
Best case scenario for Pearman is that there are some injuries at running back that forces the team into keeping him another year, or some injuries elsewhere that can garner him interest as a trade commodity. Worst case scenario is that everyone stays healthy, and his game doesn't improve, which will result in his release.

Derrick Wimbush
Derrick Wimbush filled in as a fullback in '06, and finished the season with just one carry and four receptions. Wimbush's most active role was a blocker, and filling in with kickoff return duties. Wimbush has some running skills and agility, and was a nice surprise for the Jaguars, especially in the '05 season as he returned a kickoff for a touchdown.

Strengths: Wimbush is a powerful guy, he has a little "wiggle", and he can catch the football out of the backfield. Wimbush is also the NFL's first known power kickoff returner, as he looks to run people over, rather than avoid them. Wimbush is a solid blocker, and can make a difference on special teams.

Weaknesses: Wimbush really isn't fast enough to be considered a feature-back, and although his hands are good, they're not great. No outstanding talents, just an average football player.

Best case/Worst case scenarios: Wimbush's best case scenario is that he makes the team, plays a lot of fullback, and does a solid job in new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter's system. His worst case scenario is that one of the younger undrafted free agents steps up and Wimbush finds himself out of work.

Montell Owens
Montell Owens was another undrafted rookie free agent that made the team in '06 thanks to his great special teams contributions. Owens made himself noticed so much in each of the preseason games for the Jaguars that the coaching staff couldn't leave him off the active roster. Owens filled in some at fullback for the Jaguars, but is undersized for that position, at just 5'10 , 219 lbs.

Effort guy, he does what's asked of him. Owens gives 100% on every snap he plays, because he knows that he has no other choice if he's going to collect NFL paychecks. Solid special teams guy, it's better to have him on your team than play against him.

Marginal skill set. Owens must rely on effort because he doesn't have any other discernable features that makes him marketable as a professional football player. Owens missed a block that led to a blocked punt in the season finale at Kansas City in '06.

Best case/Worst case scenarios:
Owens best case scenario is that he makes the team due to his special teams contributions and hard work. Worst case scenario is that someone out-works him and he doesn't make the final 53.

D.D. Terry
D.D. Terry may be one of the best athletes on the team, as he was a two-sport star at Sam Houston State, earning all conference honors in not only football, but track. Terry not only played running back in college, but also played linebacker and safety. In Terry's only season at the running back position, he recorded a school record 1328 yards rushing on just 215 carries. Terry has a great attitude and will do anything to help a football or track team. He has great speed, good hands, and isn't afraid to block or hit.

Terry is about as versatile of a football player as you'll ever find, and completely self-less. He has legitimate running skills, blocking skills, and can catch the ball out of the backfield. Terry isn't afraid to play special teams, and that is likely where he'll have to make the team at.

There are some certain questions about the level of competition he's faced in the Southland conference, and no one is sure about how he'll adjust to the NFL game.

Best case/Worst case scenarios:
If Terry can out-work some guys currently on the roster, he will make the team, or at least the practice squad. Worst case scenario is that the jump from small school Sam Houston State is too much for him and he doesn't make the final 53 or practice squad.

The set of running backs that the Jaguars will enter camp with is easily the most talented in team history, and probably the best stable from top to bottom, in the entire NFL. There are two legitimate superstars in Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew, and everyone else has some legitimate skills at the position. Competition will be at a premium throughout camp, and it is very likely that someone that gets released can be a solid NFL running back somewhere in the league.

Charlie Bernstein is the Editor-in-Chief of Jagnation.com, and a regular syndicated contributor to various national news outlets. Charlie is also a member of the Pro Football Writers Association.

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