Four Downs of Questions About the Offense Heading Into Camp
1. The Featured Running Back Is… - The Jets utilized the two-back system well last year – even with injury curveballs - as Thomas Jones got the majority of carries in 2009 and Leon Washington was the change of pace player. Washington's mid-season injury changed all that for the Jets and it was rookie Shonn Greene who was called upon to spell Jones. By playoff time, it was "Go Greene" all the time as he carried the load. It'd be easy for New York fans to get excited about Greene – and yes there is plenty of reason for optimism – but keep in mind that the second year back has just 108 carries in the regular season.
That isn't exactly a resume deep with experience.
The signing of LaDainian Tomlinson this spring is intriguing for New York, as it gives them an All-Pro threat and a proven commodity who can be an outlet for Mark Sanchez out of the backfield (note that Greene has not caught a single NFL pass through his 17 games in the league).
Tomlinson, however, has clearly peaked a couple years ago. His yards per carry last season, a 3.3 average, is the lowest of his career and he didn't have a receiving touchdown for the first time since his rookie season in 2001. The 31-year old back won't have to carry the burden, however, as he will split carries with Greene. He also won't be called upon to run between the tackles - Greene will grind out the tough yards on first down like Jones did last season. What Tomlinson will do is simply be dynamic and give Sanchez an option for short routes and a safety valve who can get in the open and still get yards in a hurry. After Washington went down last year, Sanchez didn't have that option in the backfield to pass to.
He may be a veteran and perhaps not as speedy or elusive as he was a few years ago, but Tomlinson did rush for 12 touchdowns last season.
Not a whole lot is expected of McKnight, the fourth round pick out of USC, other than to develop and get his carries. With fitness concerns behind him - McKnight was gassed during rookie camp - he can focus on schemes and improving his technique. The goal will be to develop the former Trojan into a Leon Washington type of player who can do his danger outside the hash marks and provide a change of pace from Greene and Tomlinson. He's not a power runner, but McKnight can get yards and squeeze through a hole. His few carries a game will be fresh legs, and McKnight certainly has that kind of talent to be effective in this role.
Analysis: The Jets, despite a plethora of passing options and some high-priced talent at receiver, are still going to be a smash-mouth, grind-em out kind of team. The key will be getting everyone enough carries to find their groove.
Greene can easily be a 1,000 back in this league, which is what the Jets are counting on. Behind the offensive line that is in place, arguably one of the top five units in the league, he can certainly break that plateau. Greene must find his rhythm every game as he's the type of player who seems to get stronger as the game wears on.
During the off-season, Greene has bulked up to absorb the hits a feature back receives in the league and he didn't seem to lose any speed, but Greene never was a breakaway type player. He also spent considerable time in working on his blocking and also catching the ball out of the backfield, both areas needing improvement.
The reason why Tomlinson can do well, despite the decrease in production last year, is the fact that the former San Diego man won't be a feature back in the Jets' system. The New York offense will be looking to exploit other teams with Tomlinson's ability to make things happen once he breaks into the open. If the Jets can keep him under 10 carries a game and get his hand on the ball another five times in the area, he should remain fresh and ready.
Also, he will benefit from a Jets' offensive line that is among the best in the league and with the addition of second round pick Vlad Ducasse, they have a player who can get down the field in a hurry to provide run support.