Introducing the two happiest men on the New York Jets entire offense, Thomas Jones and Leon Washington! Both backs are making their first trip to Hawaii together for the 2009 NFL Pro Bowl, they’re starting, and they have a new head coach who promises a run-first offensive philosophy.
As far as the 2009 season is concerned, running back is the one area where the Jets should be absolutely set.
Unfortunately, that may not be the case. While the rest of the NFL is finally coming along and embracing the two-back approach to running the rock, it’s the Jets’ lack of depth behind Jones and Washington that should be the biggest cause for concern.
It’s the most ideal situation the Jets are faced with this offseason. Finding a man to carry the load isn’t a priority. But finding a man that could, if absolutely necessary, would help put some minds at rest between now and August.
Destroying the Age Barrier
When the 2009 regular season kicks off, Thomas Jones will have recently turned 31. It’s a scary number for Jets’ fans.
It was the age Curtis Martin was after winning the NFL’s rushing title in 2004 with 1,697 yards.
That year was his last moment of glory as 2005 was spent playing through pain until he was finally sidelined with the knee injury that forced him to retire.
But despite Martin’s warrior spirit, his body had taken a substantial beating throughout his career. The Jets lived and died on his legs as Herm Edwards found new ways to run Martin directly into the ground.
Despite having a complementary back in LaMont Jordan, Edwards never alleviated the stress from Martin’s knees.
Fortunately for Thomas Jones, the first five years of his career weren’t spent the same way as Martin’s.
Jones broke the 1,000-yard mark for the first time in his career during his sixth season, whereas Martin didn’t rush for less than 1,100 until his eighth.
That makes Jones a much younger 31 than most other backs in the NFL. It means he could very well be on the verge of another AFC-leading season.
Can He Be a Featured Back?
There are two schools of thought among Jets fans when it comes to Leon Washington.
There are fans who believe he could be a 20-carry, featured back in this league. And there are fans who believe Washington’s value comes on special-teams returns and screen plays with limited carries.
Washington’s worth as a return man has finally been realized as he’s going to the Pro Bowl for his exceptional ability to break through coverage. But limiting his carries would be counter-productive to being an effective offense.
The Jets’ only true weapon, Washington is the one player who can be trusted to take a scamper for a touchdown. He’s a game-changer by all accounts.
It’s his size that makes everyone doubt him. At 5’8″, 202-pounds, people believe he doesn’t have the body to take a consistent pounding.
Are they wrong? Maybe.
It’s not the kind of assessment that can be made without the opportunities. It took Philadelphia five years to finally embrace the undersized Brian Westbrook as their featured back, and the decision paid off.
Washington deserves the opportunity to be an offensive focal point.
The Importance of Depth
The two-back system is a phenomenal one. Complementary runners spelling off one another and destroying a defense with power, then speed—then more power and more speed—only creates success in other facets of the offense.
Having only two exceptional backs is an excellent problem to have. But nonetheless, it is a problem.
Injuries happen in the NFL. Some teams have players who can step right in and make a seamless transition. But most teams are absolutely crippled by them.
If Jones were to be lost to injury, Jets’ fans would learn the answer to whether or not Washington could be a featured back very quickly.
But then the Jets lose a Pro Bowl kick returner—a player who can create points from a 100 yards away, or put his team in excellent field position will have new responsibilities.
If Washington were to be lost to injury, the Jets lose their only proven offensive game-breaker and their return man.
Depth is absolutely essential this offseason. Jesse Chatham was supposed to be the third RB, but he was lost to suspension and injury for most of 2008.
Not all hope is lost, though. There are always running backs to be had in the NFL Draft, and they don’t always have to be top, first-round picks. Leon Washington is a fourth-round selection, himself.
And the free agent market will be littered with experienced backs who have been in the committee system.
LaMont Jordan is expected to hit free agency after one-year with the New England Patriots.
Rudi Johnson, Kevin Jones, and J.J. Arrington all fit the bill for complementary backs who could excel as members of a running back committee.
The Jets don’t need to find a starter. They don’t need a stud running back to come in for a monster contract and command 10-15 carries a game. They need a role player who could make the most of his touches when given the opportunity.