Saturday, June 13, 2009

Running Back Camp Battles to Watch Part 1

While OTA's are winding/have wound down, the NFL does not sleep. While the players get what passes for a vacation, media does not, especially since Brett Favre can't make up his damned mind.

In perfect universal symmetry, neither can the Vikings. Marriage made in heaven or hell? We'll find out soon enough.

In order to get you prepped for tons of footbally goodness at the end of July, I've decided to break down some of the more interesting running back battles to watch in July and August.

This is what happens when you drive cross country folks. You fill time.

This is also not to say that there won't be battles we don't see as important now, emerging down the pike as intriguing. But for now, these are ones that stand out as important immediately.

Without further ado (or more ado than usual at least) here are the Training Camp Battles to Watch: Running Backs.

Carolina: There is a ton of assumption going on here after DeAngelo Williams went off in 2008. We know John Fox loves to hang with his long term vets and you have to figure Williams earned some consideration. Still, Jonathan Stewart was able to score 10 TDs even with Williams numbers, so Fox is willing to work him in. Where this gets interesting is behind Stewart with Mike Goodson.

Stewart has been hurt during Mini's and OTA's and Goodson is a guy the team wants involved. Why does this matter? Because if Goodson gets a shot to shine and does so, this could become a three headed monster which might be great for Panther fans, though hurt the overall numbers of all three guys. Carolina runs a ton (504 pass attempts versus 414 passing according to footballguys.com) so there could be work for all, but that might be offset a tad by three running backs.

Baltimore: Will last year's Thundering Blurb Mr. Glass Award Winner (TM) Willis McGahee, ever be healthy? My guess is no, sure as heck not coming off of two off-season surgeries. Both his knee (the one that has been hurt since.... um.... 1942?) and his ankle went under the knife. Stick a fork in him (or a scalpel), the man is DONE. The Ravens may not agree and we'll get a sense of that in Training Camp. That could mean the start of the Ray Rice Ruckus (also (TM)).

Rice showed some skills last season when he was healthy and should get a ton of the carries. He won't do it alone, however and whether the teams sticks with rookie Cedric Peerman, moves Le'Ron McClain back from fullback (where he went during OTA's) or adds some work for Jalen Parmele. How the backs behind Rice shake out could impact his numbers very sigificantly.

Buffalo: With Marshawn Lynch suspended the first few games of the season, Fred Jackson will get his time to shine again. Jackson looked great in limited (sometimes not-so-limited) action last season. But the Bills acquired journeyman Dominic Rhodes this offseason to protect themselves and he'll duke it out for lead bell cow while 'Dis Muh Son' Lynch is in Goodell's pokey.

This battle, mostly between Jackson and Rhodes is critical because whomever wins the top spot might not relinquish it when Lynch comes back and could factor in with what the Bills do with the troubled back long term if he can't get his head straight.

Cincinnati: I know the Bengals think they have some sort of hidden gem in Cedric Benson, and I'm happy for them but remain unconvinced. Benson did well behind a tragic offensive line, which will not be the case if rookie Andre Smith can get his act together. But I can't help but recall all the problems Benson had in Chicago, so I am not annointing him anything and neither should Cinci. Brian Leonard and Bernard Scott are both good short yardage backs who can catch the ball and could make some noise.

Scott will have to overcome some maturity issues and they will both have to shine in camp to wrest carries away from Benson. That's completely possible in my opinion so I will be interested to watch this camp closely.

Denver: There are three sure things in football right now - Brett Favre will be considering and waffling about a comeback in the spring and early summer, the Raiders will make decisions based on logic only they can comprehend and the Broncos running back situation will be a cloudy mess.

But have we lost one of those sure things? Surprising everyone in this April's Draft, the Donks took Knowshon Moreno, the talented back from Georgia and the interwubs is all a-twitter (or all twittering) about Moreno carrying the whole load.

For sure, he can do it all - block, run, catch. But will Head Coach Josh McDaniels truly rely on one back? His former team, the Patriots, didn't. Of course, you can argue they lacked a back like Moreno.

All I know is Moreno has the ability to do it. But with recent additions Correll Buckhalter, Lamont Jordan and Darius Walker, along with impressive 2008 rookie Peyton Hillis, this is a camp battle you have to watch. Considering they no longer have Jay Cutler slinging the ball, the run game is of paramount importance this year.

Indianapolis: It wasn't that long ago that Joseph Addai was the answer in Colt-land at running back. A few injury-plagued seasons later, Donald Brown is drafted and Addai is poised to lose most of his carries.

Brown can do pretty much everything Addai can do, and might have the size to stay healthy as well. Most analysts feel it is only a matter of time before Brown takes over the higher percentage of carries in this obvious running-back-by-committee.

What I want to know is, what percentage does he start the season off with? A good camp by Brown could give him a large role in this prolific offense.

That's it for today's installment. I'll be back tomorrow with a look at some more teams, including who might be backing up MJD in Jacksonville, what Philadelphia is looking at if Westbrook stays hurt and who will be the top dog in the mess that is the Seahawks' run game.

No comments: