- James Walker, ESPN Staff Writer
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How does each AFC East team look at running back, and what still needs to be done?
Buffalo Bills: The Bills have one of the NFL’s strongest duos in C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson. They complement each other very well. Spiller is a dynamic home run hitter, while Jackson runs hard between the tackles. Both players are also versatile enough to catch out of the backfield. Former Bills head coach Chan Gailey could never figure out how to effectively use both players. Spiller was mostly underused on Gailey’s watch until the second half of last season. New head coach Doug Marrone is expected to learn from Gailey’s mistakes. Spiller as the primary ball-carrier, with Jackson as the backup, would make a dangerous combination.
Miami Dolphins: The Dolphins have an intriguing situation at running back. After 2012 starter Reggie Bush left Miami for the Detroit Lions in free agency, the Dolphins are left with three relative unknowns at tailback. Second-year player Lamar Miller is the projected starter. He showed tremendous flashes during his rookie season and led Miami backs with 4.9-yards-per-carry average. Miller fits Miami’s West Coast offense well but needs to do a better job in pass protection as an every-down back. Backup Daniel Thomas never lived up to his high draft status but isn’t bad as a second or third option. Thomas will compete with 2013 fifth-round pick Mike Gillislee, who many think is a nice sleeper pickup for the Dolphins. This is an unknown group that could end up better than advertised.
New England Patriots: The Patriots are well-stocked at running back. It starts with starter Stevan Ridley, who led the Patriots with a career-high 1,263 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns in 2012. Ridley fit in well with New England’s up-tempo, spread offense. Backup Shane Vereen is expected to fill the third-down role vacated by Danny Woodhead, who signed with the San Diego Chargers in free agency. New England also added burly tailback LeGarrette Blount, who can add toughness and help in short-yardage situations. Leon Washington is the fourth running back on the team but is primarily a kick returner. The running game could be even more important in 2013 now that New England had a major makeover at wide receiver and has injury concerns with tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.
New York Jets: The Jets are in a tough spot at running back. Free-agent signee Mike Goodson was arrested last week and faces drug and weapons charges. He was expected to compete for the starting job in New York, but now his future with the Jets is uncertain. First-year general manager John Idzik is trying to change the culture in New York and could make an example of Goodson for poor off-the-field behavior. That would leave New York with a not-so-impressive trio that includes projected starter Chris Ivory and backups Bilal Powell and Joe McKnight. This is not a trio who will scare an NFL defense. The Jets are in the middle of a long rebuild, and that includes not having many weapons on offense.