The Jets seemingly don’t have a lead dog at the running back position, but that won’t necessarily be a detriment to the offense.
This isn’t the Curtis Martin era.
Nor Freeman McNeil’s prime.
The Jets don’t possess a clearcut No. 1 running back on the roster, and instead, employ a number of individuals with differing on-field strengths.
There’s no bell cow back who’s going to notch 20-plus carries per game; no workhorse who will constantly reach the century mark week after week.
It’s not a flashy group, simply speaking.
But flashiness isn’t a prerequisite of production — the team can still succeed on the ground with the numerous options it possesses and the various qualities those individuals can put on display.
The current unit is underrated, and it’s one that will be crucial to the overall success of this offense.
“That’s an unknown group,” head coach Robert Saleh told the New York Post‘s Mark Cannizzaro and the rest of the media Wednesday. “People look at the names and they’ll assume there’s not much, but Ty Johnson is an explosive back, [La’Mical] Perine is a powerful back, Josh Adams is a speed burner, [Austin] Walter is showing that he has the ability to play in this league and he shows speed and power. Michael Carter’s got great agility and burst, Tevin Coleman obviously…they all have a dynamic trait to them that could be pretty good in the system, especially with the way the offensive line works and the way the zone scheme works, and then working one gap at a time. So we’re excited about this group. Especially with our o-line and their ability to block up front, create a space…we’ll see what happens. Especially, these preseason games are going to be awesome.”
The overall Gang Green offensive unit finished dead last in the NFL in terms of total yards and points last season. Obviously, one of the main goals of this new coaching staff is to heavily improve those marks.
But one of the other lingering objectives is to put Zach Wilson in the best position to effectively develop. The rookie signal-caller requires assistance, especially considering he’s set to immediately take the reins as the team’s starter.
The Jets (at least on paper) have a talented receiving corps that should provide that assistance, but the running back unit will be crucial to Zach’s professional growth as well.
The Jets will need to efficiently run the ball and garner production out of Carter, Perine, Coleman, and co. Not doing so could lead to much pressure being placed on the first-year quarterback — this is when mistake-filled football could rear its ugly head.
“The run game in general is just critical. That’s how we all firmly believe. If you can’t run the ball in this league, it’s really hard to just have to throw the ball,” offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur said to the New York Daily News‘ DJ Bien-Aime when asked about the backs’ influence on Wilson’s development. “There are only a few quarterbacks in history at a time that could just sit back there and drop back and just pick people apart and go up and down the field. It’ll happen once every couple weeks, or once every other week or something like that but, to be a good offense I truly believe you got to lean on the run game whether you have a rookie quarterback or a veteran quarterback.
“We were, I think, top three in rushing or whatever we were in 2019 [with the 49ers] and Jimmy [Garoppolo] had a great year that year. But that run game really helped him out and it created that space behind him to, basically what I like to say is take some plays off him where it just turns into routes on air. If we get the run game going, we’re going to get those big play-action passes over the top and now it’s just going basically to routes on air. A lot of the times you don’t have to read anything so that’s going to be critical for him going forward.”
It’s unclear how exactly the Jets will utilize their run-game options once the regular season comes along.
La’Mical Perine as more of a short-yardage back? Tevin Coleman as more of a pass-catching back? Will the team look to get Michael Carter out in space as much as possible and/or potentially utilize him on special teams?
The above questions will be answered soon enough. But regardless of what occurs, each of the three aforementioned names (along with guys like Ty Johnson and Josh Adams) will earn reps.
All must capitalize on their precious and limited opportunities.