Running Backs Looking To Make Their Mark in 2003

Heading into every season, a group of players are presented that have potential, but have never reached the lofty opinion that has been placed upon them. Training camp 2003 will be no different as The Insiders take a look at some players that may be in position to make a statement in the league this upcoming season.

Running Backs

William Green of the Cleveland Browns: Despite a slow start to the 2002 season, Green came on strong over the second half of the season to become a legitimate threat in the Browns backfield. Solidly the Browns feature back, Green is expected to carry the ball 20-25 times per game.

Green has a great combination of size, strength, and speed. Not only does he have the characteristics of a workhorse type running back, he has shown to have big-play ability. While Green has displayed flashes of excellence, he needs to improve in short yardage situations and in his pass blocking protection assignments. Not a threat coming out of the backfield in his rookie season, Green has worked endlessly this off-season to improve pass catching ability and instincts in the Browns improving offense.

Though the Browns have been inconsistent along the offensive line, once committing to the rushing game in the second half of the 2002 season, Green averaged 103-yards per game on the ground. The 2003 version of Green should be even better as the Browns are in the process of establishing a larger, more aggressive offensive line. Seeking to play a balanced, ball-control offensive scheme, Green should have the opportunity to establish himself as a top-ten NFL running back as offensive coordinator Bruce Arians wants to effectively run the ball to increase the explosiveness of a passing game led by one of the most talented groups of receivers in the league.

Troy Hambrick of the Dallas Cowboys: In Dallas, Hambrick has the opportunity to back up his statement of a year ago, that he should be the Cowboys feature running back. Head coach Bill Parcells believes that Hambrick has the ability to be a good running back at the pro level, but it is time for Hambrick to run with the ball.

The Dallas starting running back job is for Hambrick to lose. Harnessing and utilizing the talent of the powerful Hambrick should not be a problem for the Cowboys, or even Hambrick. He displays much better than average speed, combine that speed with powerful running skills, Hambrick will get plenty of opportunities to run the football in what will be a conservative Dallas offensive attack in 2003.

Though reporting to mini-camp overweight, an issue that slightly irked Parcells, Hambrick has dedicated himself to this opportunity and has heeded words of advice from Parcells to be in Dallas everyday, working hard, and be prepared. Surprising for a big-back, Hambrick has displayed good hands out of the backfield, while averaging over 4.7 yards per carry through his three-year NFL career.

Under Parcells, running the football is a key and Hambrick is being counted on to be that guy to lug the pigskin 25-times per game. The power rushing attack is Parcells' love, Hambrick should flourish with some tough love from Parcells.

Onterrio Smith of the Minnesota Vikings: An injury to starting running back Michael Bennett has left the Vikings in a precarious situation as the team heads into training camp. The powerful rushing attack led by Bennett in the 2002 season was the balance the Vikings needed to improve a floundering offense. As the season went on, the Vikings became a consistent, explosive offensive team. Without Bennett, the Vikings are desperately looking towards the running backs on the roster (Doug Chapman, Onterrio Smith) to step up and fill the void left by the Bennett injury.

When the Vikings selected running back Onterrio Smith on draft day, he was considered by many NFL personnel evaluators as a steal, if the team selecting him could get through to him. With somewhat of a checkered past, Smith has the physical ability to become a solid running back in the NFL. The player personnel department and coaching staff in Minnesota believe that Smith has the tools to be an exceptional running back. 

Smith's running style is somewhat similar to Marshall Faulk. Quick on his feet, Smith runs to daylight, breaking/cutting on a dime to avoid contact to break into open-field, in a manner that reminds you of Barry Sanders. Smith displayed while at Oregon the natural ability and instincts of a running back, he is adept at taking the ball into the line of scrimmage, only to bolt through the line or bounce the play off-tackle.

With the Vikings wanting to build upon their late season offensive success of 2002, the running back position will garner an increased amount of attention in training camp. Basically needing to utilize their outstanding offensive line to enhance the explosiveness and unpredictability of the offense, while providing quarterback Daunte Culpepper with a full course of weapons for his disposal, Smith has the opportunity to shine in Minnesota.
 
Kevan Barlow of the San Francisco 49ers: Splitting time with Garrison Hearst throughout his first two seasons in the league, this powerfully built running back will get the opportunity to become the feature back in the 49ers offense of new head coach Dennis Erickson. Indications coming from the 49ers are that the coaching staff has concerns about the physical pounding the aging Hearst can take, in Barlow the team has a player that has shown good size, speed, and power.
 
Barlow is not known for his pass-blocking skills in the backfield and he is known to miss assignments. On the upside, he is strong coming out of the backfield in the passing game, an aspect of the 49ers offense in 2003 that will be enhanced under Erickson.
 
The San Francisco offensive line is above average, as evidenced by Barlow's career rushing average of 4.4 yards per carry in a limited role. In the pass oriented offense that the 49ers will utilize, Barlow could have extensive opportunities in both the running and passing game. Gearing up to utilize the one-back offensive sets, the 49ers will depend on a running back that can carry the football as well as receive out of the backfield.
 
For Barlow, the 2003 season in San Francisco with a new head coach and an aging teammate in the backfield, is the opportunity that Barlow has waited for. In the case of the 49ers, they want to see if Barlow is more than a role player. Through mini-camp this off-season, Barlow has not disappointed the coaching staff.
 
Ladell Betts of the Washington Redskins: Trung Canidate may be the starter at running back when training camp begins, but he is not the best running back on the Redskins roster. That title belongs to Ladell Betts and when is all said and done, the smart money in on Betts to be the starter on opening day.
 
Betts possess' adequate speed and displays very good quickness. He is powerful, running low to the ground. In his limited opportunities in the 2002 season, Betts showed to be difficult to tackle. In two starts last season, Betts rushed for 116 and 98 yards respectively, with an average of 5.7 yards per carry in those two starting assignments.

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