FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Second year running back Bilal Powell is punctually on the prowl. A year after suffering the residual effects of a rookie off-season amidst a lock-out, the Louisville alum has pulled up a third seat in the Jets backfield table for two.
Flashing glimpses of a third-down back, who can not only run and catch the ball but excels in pass protection, Powell is fulfilling the visions of Rex Ryan and running backs coach Anthony Lynn of replacing LaDanian Tomlinson.
“When we drafted him we thought he could be a replacement to LaDanian Tomlinson. If LT never came back [last season], we felt like he could have fulfilled his duties nicely. That’s why we drafted him. Coming out of Louisville, Anthony Lynn – great teacher, great coach, but also a great evaluator – was really high on Powell,” Ryan said Thursday.
He’s been impressive enough to make a conversation out of the back-up running back position with fourth-year back Joe McKnight.
“I think him and Joe [McKnight] both are our number two. Both of those guys will play for us. I don’t think there’s a clear cut number two guy, Ryan said.
For a team that’s establishing themselves as a run-first, ground and pound team is there a better problem to have than having too many running backs? Starter Shonn Greene, McKnight and Powell all bring a different running style to the field and can bring much needed versatility and change of pace to a Jets offense that is expecting to thrive off the element of surprise.
Are there concerns that there won’t be enough carries to go around for all three? Not among this group.
“There’s absolutely enough carries to go around. We all have different qualities. I’m more of a downhill, north-south running back. Bilal’s a great pass protection guy, picks up the blitz very well, good on third downs. Joe’s very versatile route runner who can catch the ball out of the backfield,” Greene said.
“I’m not even worried about carries right now,” McKnight said. “I still have special teams and kickoff returns to worry about too. We all really feed off each other. When Shonn has a good first series we really vibe off that.”
Powell embraces the opportunity to replaced a future Hall-of-Famer in Tomlinson.
“It says a whole lot even to be mentioned in the same category LT. Joe and I, with Shonn being the starter, we just have to go out there and pick up the pieces when we’re called on,” Powell said.
As the NFL continues to evolve into a pass-first league and a situational game , the role of the running back has expanded. The two-headed running game is no longer a novelty, but a necessity. But a three-headed backfield? We’ve seen it work before.
The “Earth, Wind & Fire” backfield of the New York Giants in 2008 combined for 2,469 yards, 18 total touchdowns and 5.3 yards per carry. That backfield featured Brandon Jacobs, a down-hill, north-south runner; Derrick Ward a speedy, shifty third-down back; And Ahmad Bradshaw a versatile route runner who can catch the ball out of the backfield.
That Giants team went 12-4, running their way to the top seed in the NFC. The Jets will look to get their ground game off on the right foot Sunday against the Buffalo Bills.