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Mike LaFleur Knows for Zach Wilson to Thrive, Jets Have to 'Lean on the Run Game'

Offensive Coordinator Likes the Freshness and Variety of Skills His Six RBs Bring to the Table


Many sets of eyes are always on Jets rookie QB Zach Wilson at training camp. But you'll have to excuse coordinator Mike LaFleur if he has one eye on Wilson while the other eye is scanning and analyzing the other units in his offense.

Such as the running backs, and how much they can bring to the table this season in helping Zach and the offense get up to speed.

"The run game in general is just critical — that's what we all firmly believe," LaFleur said following Wednesday's training camp practice. "If you can't run the ball in this league, it gets really hard to throw the ball. There's only a few quarterbacks in the history of time that can just drop back and pick people apart and go up and down the field.

"To be a good offense, I truly believe you've got to lean on the run game, whether you have a rookie quarterback or a veteran quarterback."

LaFleur explained the process of how such a dynamic backfield can help, whether his QB is the just-turned-22 Wilson or, when he was the passing game coordinator with the Super Bowl-bound 49ers in 2019, the veteran Jimmy Garoppolo.

"We were, I think, top-three in rushing in '19 and Jimmy had a great year," LaFleur said. "That run game really helped him out. It created that space behind him to, basically what I like to say, take some plays off of him, where it just turns into routes on air. If we get the run game going, we're going to get those big play-action passes over the top where a lot of times you really don't have to read anything."

As for Wilson, he looks to have an interesting and possibly effective running-back-by-committee to work with and play off of. The OC was asked for a scouting report on each of his backs:

Tevin Coleman: "He's always been explosive. Last year, unfortunately, he was pretty banged up and people thought, there goes another running back that just fell off the cliff. But I think we're seeing right now he still has everything left in the tank."

Ty Johnson: "A pretty unique dude. He's extremely strong, he's fast. And he's got really good hands, so he's got a lot of good versatility to him."

Josh Adams: "He's kind of that unique build but he really has a good feel with his hips how to set guys up, put his foot in the ground, attack the edges and get up and down."

La'Mical Perine: "You've got a powerful guy who's finally seeing what NFL football and running the ball is like. He got his feet wet last year and we expect some big things out of him."

Austin Walter: "We had him in San Francisco. An extremely smart kid who can put his foot in the ground. He's fearless, he's tough."

Michael Carter: "What's been cool about him, he's got such a good feel for holes and space. When you think he's about to hit something, he's so tight to the ground and under control that you never really know where he's going, but it always seems like he makes the right decision."

Will all six make it to the 53-man roster heading into opening day at Carolina and beyond? Unlikely. But whichever backs make the cut provide the promise of blending their varied skills into an effective ground force.

"Definitely the freshness," LaFleur said of the advantages of having such a collection of ballcarriers. "And just having the versatility among your skill group, not having the same out of everyone. It's just key. A defense gets used to fitting something, then all of a sudden the tempo changes, right? It's really no different than calling an offense. We're going to push the tempo, back off the tempo, and just kind of keep the defense on their toes."

And from there, let Wilson get to work tossing passes on air to his equally skilled and diverse receiving corps. At least that's the Jets' offensive plan here in early August.

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