It seems as though it has been ages since the days of Thunder and Lightning featuring Ron Dayne and Tiki Barber, or Earth, Wind and Fire composed of Brandon Jacobs, Derrick Ward and Ahmad Bradshaw. Both running back by committee approaches yielded great success for the Giants and lived up to the traditional ground and pound nature of the classic New York Giants-style of football. Last year the Giants were anything but successful as the only thing that was being grounded and pounded was their offensive line and running backs.
The Giants ranked fourth-worst in the NFL averaging a mere 83.2 rushing yards per game. They were tied for third-worst with an average of 3.5 yards per carry. The statistics were reflective of the abysmal offensive production the team mustered up in 2013. Though injuries at the running back position did not help their cause, the Giants running game was grounded from the start due to a lackluster performance from the offensive line.
Fast forward an offseason and the Giants not only have four new starters along the offensive line, but also have some fresh faces and legs behind that group. If the offensive line can manage to be even average at best, the Giants have the kind of talent at running back that could make this offense rather special when it comes to depth and skill set at running back. Not only do the Giants boast a potential three-headed monster, but a productive committee that compliments one another while also maintaining fresh legs, and congruently lessening the hit count and mileage of each running back as the season wears on; a valuable lesson considering last years disaster.
The running back that will likely make the greatest impact is the newly signed Rashad Jennings. The former “fat kid” is a bruiser that could carry the lions share of touches if need be, though the Giants hope that wont have to be the case. Jennings is a triple threat offensively, he can run between the tackles, catch out of the backfield, and protect Eli Manning in the pocket. With an average of 4.5 yards per carry and only one lost fumble in his career, the sixth-year back should be exactly what Coughlin ordered.
Jennings’ solid 4.5 yards per carry last season came on an Oakland Raiders team that posed almost no threat through the air. Teams would stack the box against the like of Terrelle Pryor and Matt Flynn knowing the Raiders would run the football and Jennings still managed to be highly productive. There’s no doubt that caught the Giants eye. Expect that yards per carry to increase if the Giants offensive line can be at least mediocre if not better considering the Giants will provide the type of aerial threat the Raiders could not.
Now healthy, David Wilson will be the perfect complement to Jennings. Giants fans have all seen flashes of what Wilson is capable of. If he can hold onto the football and stay healthy, he has the elite speed and footwork to be a home run threat on every play. Like Jennings he, too, can catch the ball out of the backfield, but in space he is about ten times as dangerous. Expect Ben McAdoo to get creative with Wilson, especially in the second half of games once Jennings has worn down the defense. Wilson can not only juke, he can fly and is arguably one of the most explosive running backs in the NFL and 2014 can be a breakout year if this team is as balanced as it hopes to be.
Finally there is the Giants’ fourth-round pick Andre Williams. Now wearing Ahmad Bradshaw’s old jersey, the Boston College back is already impressing coaches in training camp and seeing an abundance of carries inside the 10 yard marker. He may be viewed as a goal line back now, but Williams is another back that can shoulder a large load though he likely won’t be asked to as a rookie.
The Heisman Trophy runner up carried the football 355 times for an NCAA leading 2,117 yards and 18 touchdowns last year for Boston College. Those are not easy numbers to gather. He runs hard, has good vision, and better speed than he is given credit for. The coaching staff has showered the young back with praise for his effort and skill.
“He’s become more than a [straight-ahead runner],” head coach Tom Coughlin said. “He was not used that way at B.C.”
Running backs coach Craig Johnson also likes what he has seen from Williams thus far.
“We are going to do drills all the time, and he’s coming along. He is big, strong and physical, and that is what you are looking for,” Williams said. “We just have to continue to practice the technique because it is not ever the same in practices and in the game. We are trying to make that as close as possible.”
With three great running backs on the roster, and both Peyton Hillis and Michael Cox also in the mix, the Giants may have arguably the deepest backfield in the NFL. Perhaps also the most talented but that remains to be seen. The potential is certainly there. Don’t be surprised if the old “Earth, Wind and Fire” tag reemerges in 2014, that is assuming the offensive line can be a productive and cohesive unit.
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Tags: Ahmad Bradshaw, Andre Williams, Ben McAdoo, Brandon Jacobs, Craig Johnson, David Wilson, Derrick Ward, Football, Michael Cox, New York, New York Giants, NFL, Peyton Hillis, Rashad Jennings, Ron Dayne