When Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum last held a general session with the media, he addressed the release of Thomas Jones and the addition of LaDainian Tomlinson. But he also issued a reminder that the Jets might not be done making moves at running back.
"We're going to run the ball a lot next year. It's really important to Rex. That's our offensive philosophy. It will remain like that this year," he said. "We just thought depth at that position was critical and I wouldn't rule out adding another back in the draft if the opportunity presented itself."
Even though the Jets don't have a glaring need at running back, Clemson's C.J. Spiller has special qualities that any team would love. But Spiller's not going to be available when the Jets pick 29th overall and there is quality depth in the 2010 RB class.
"This class is very deep at the halfback position. You can get a good halfback in the third, fourth or fifth round in this year's draft," said Jets RB coach Anthony Lynn in a recent interview with newyorkjets.com. "[Montario] Hardesty from Tennessee did an outstanding job at the combine and just jumped off the charts and the kid [Ben] Tate from Auburn. Those guys don't get mentioned like Jahvid [Best] and Spiller and Toby Gerhart, but there are a lot of good backs in this draft."
Hardesty (6'0", 225) rushed for 1,345 yards and 13 TDs in his final season with the Vols. He's a powerful back who can break tackles, doesn't hesitate to hit the hole, is a solid blocker and also can catch the rock. Despite having undergone three surgeries, he had 560 career carries and didn't disappoint in Indianapolis while posting a 4.49 time in the 40-yard dash. Also, his 41.0" vertical jump paced all backs and his 10'4" broad jump tied Tate for top among the RBs.
Tate (5'11", 220) posted a 4.43 in the 40 at Indy and tied for first on the bench with 26 reps of 225 pounds. Last season he rushed for 1,362 yards for the Tigers and amassed 3,231 yards on the ground in his collegiate career at Auburn. This is a physical, straight-ahead runner who told the Birmingham News that he's the most complete running back in the nation.
Best, a California product, and Spiller are both explosion and versatility personified. The 5'10", 199-pound Best, who ran a second-to-none 4.35 at the combine, had 4,045 all-purpose yards for the Bears. He's an open-field marvel with return ability, but some teams might shy away from him because of concussions.
You can expect Spiller to hear his named called early Thursday evening after the commissioner opens the draft festivities. The 5'11", 196-pounder is a freakish talent combined with character off the charts. The ACC's 2009 Player of the Year had an NCAA-record seven kick-return touchdowns, became the conference's first player to rush for 1,000 yards and eclipse 500 yards receiving in the same campaign, and on the track he finished second in the ACC Championships in the 100 meters.
Then you have Gerhart (6'0", 231) from Stanford, who ran for 1,871 yards and 28 TDs last year. The big dude's got a nose for the goal line as evidenced by his school record 44 TDs and he reached 100 yards or more 20 times over his final 26 games.
Next Step for Greene
The Jets look like they struck it big in last year's draft, not only pushing up to grab talented QB Mark Sanchez in Round 1 but then moving up to get Iowa runner Shonn Greene to start Round 3. After rushing for 540 yards in the regular season, the 5'11", 226-pound Greene broke loose in the playoffs with 304 yards and two TDs while averaging 5.6 yards a clip. Lynn was happy with Greene's development, but he'd like to see him take another step as a sophomore.
"I want Shonn to be an every-down back. We may not need him on third down, but if we do, I want him on the field," Lynn said. "Learning third-down protections, I want him to improve his receiving skills. So those are the steps we're going to take with Shonn this offseason."
A bruising runner who often searches for contact, Greene worked through a few injuries as a rookie and sore ribs forced him to the sideline in the second half of the Jets' AFC Championship defeat.
"He is a physical back. He gives a lot of shots and he also takes a lot of shots," Lynn said. "Last year he had some back luck. He got nicked up a little bit in some critical situations. That's why you can never have enough good backs in football. It takes more than one to get through a football season, so I like the stable we have now."
Tomlinson, the NFL's eighth all-time rusher, is the latest to join Lynn's crew. After starting his career with eight consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, LT rushed for 730 yards with the Bolts in '09 and he also had a career-low 20 receptions. But when Lynn watches the video, he still sees a player who's going to be a major contributor.
"When I look at a back and I evaluate him, I don't really pay a lot of attention to stats. I look at his skill level and if he's getting in and out of breaks. Does he still have his quickness, does he still have his vision and instincts to come out of the back door on certain cuts and reads? And LT still has all those things. LT's going to do a heck of a job here," said Lynn. "I'm looking forward to working with the guy and he's a future Hall of Famer."
"We're just going to ground and pound away," added Coach Ryan this week while down at the owners meetings in Orlando, FL. "I'm sure some games he'll (LT) have more rushing attempts than Shonn, and I think Shonn will have more than LT in other ones. Hypothetically, we'd see him carry the ball 15 times a game."
While Greene and Tomlinson have participated in the Jets' offseason workouts thus far, RFA Leon Washington has opted not to sign his tender and is not rehabbing here at the facility. If and when Washington returns at 100 percent, Lynn says No. 29 "is a threat every time he gets the ball in his hands and his versatility is second to none."
The Jets' offensive line and FB Tony Richardson helped open holes for the NFL's top-ranked rushing unit last season and T-Rich just committed for another year of collisions.
"When you have a guy who's been in the league 15, 16 years and with three Pro Bowls, the young guys just look up to him," Lynn said of the 38-year-old Richardson. "They learn how to be professionals watching guys like that so it's a big move for my room."
Speaking of young guys, the Jets also have FB Jason Davis, RB Chauncey Washington and WR/RB Danny Woodhead still on the roster.
Woodhead, Lynn said, "is another dynamic young football player — fast, great hands, good receiver. He did a good job for us in third-down situations. Chauncey, I don't know a lot about him yet, but he's a big-body guy, a guy you like to take to camp. He showed some promise late in the season, so I'm looking forward to working with him."