Camp preview: Running back

July, 20, 2012
7/20/12
6:00
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Breaking down the Jets, position by position, as we head to training camp:

Position: Running back

Projected starters: Shonn Greene (RB), John Conner (FB).

Projected reserves: Joe McKnight, Bilal Powell, Terrance Ganaway, John Griffin.

New faces: Ganaway, Griffin.

AP Photo/Paul SpinelliShonn Greene
Going, going, gone: LaDainian Tomlinson

Player to watch: The running game will live or die with Greene, who enters his second season as the featured back. For the first time in his career, he's the most accomplished runner on the team. Thomas Jones is long gone, so is Tomlinson. That means pressure. Greene, a notoriously slow starter, has to bring his A-game early. He averaged 74 yards and 4.4 per carry over the final 12 games last season, but he needs that kind of production over the full season. Greene is a solid runner when the holes are there, but he's a one-speed back who doesn't make enough yards on his own. This is a contract year, so he'll be plenty motivated.

Potential strength: The Jets selected four backs in the last three drafts, so there should be enough depth -- in theory, anyway. Throw in Griffin, a first-year free agent who impressed in the spring, and they should have a nice stable of runners.

Potential weakness: Where's the home run ability? A year ago, Greene's longest run was 31 yards, and that didn't happen until the 14th game. It was the Jets' longest run of the season. Ground & Pound is fine, but you need a back that can get into the secondary, a back that can tie a defense into knots. The Jets don't have that guy, unless McKnight finally emerges.

Wild card: Some players on the team believe McKnight will be the breakout player on offense. He'll get the opportunity, that's for sure. He'll back up Greene and replace Tomlinson as the third-down back, the first time in his young career that he'll have a legitimate role on offense. If McKnight matures, learns to be a disciplined runner and develops as a pass catcher, he can be a good part-time back. The athleticism is there; he demonstrates the explosiveness on kickoffs.

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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