- Dan Graziano, ESPN Staff Writer
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New York Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw, who missed last week's game with a neck injury but has been cleared to return to practice this week, guaranteed Tuesday that he would play Sunday night against the Philadelphia Eagles. This is good to know, but it occurs to me that Bradshaw is not in charge of which Giants players play. Coach Tom Coughlin is. And to this point, we have not heard from Coughlin regarding the way the running back situation will work out once Bradshaw is able to return to game action.
Bradshaw says he's not been told anything to indicate his role as the team's starter has changed or will change, but the Giants' running game finished last in the league last season with Bradshaw as its lead back. And while he had a decent game in the opener against Dallas, gaining 78 yards on 17 carries, he struggled to find running room most of that night before breaking a 33-yard run late, and he struggled again before leaving the Week 2 game against Tampa Bay with the injury.
In the meantime, Andre Brown replaced Bradshaw against Tampa Bay and rushed for 71 yards on 13 carries. Brown then got the start last week against Carolina and ran for 113 yards on 20 carries. Small sample size, sure, but Brown is averaging 5.6 yards per carry this season while Bradshaw is at 4.3 and coming off a 2011 season in which he averaged 3.9. There have been serious run-blocking issues with the Giants' offensive line since the start of 2011, but Brown is running behind basically the same line and doing a better job of finding holes and gaining yards.
So what to do, then, once Bradshaw is able to go again? They went into this season feeling good about Bradshaw as the starter, so it seems unfair and unreasonable to bounce him after only a game and a half. And it's possible that the offensive line, with Will Beatty back at left tackle last week and Sean Locklear moving over to right tackle to replace an injured David Diehl, improved the blocking and Bradshaw will improve as a result. Bradshaw has played hurt and played tough and contributed to two Super Bowl titles during his time in New York, and as a result he's earned the benefit of the doubt. But Brown has played well enough to deserve a chance to show more of what he can do. Sending him back to the bench seems like an unwise use of resources.
Fortunately for the Giants, they have a template for this. There was a time-sharing system in place over the past couple of years between Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs. Bradshaw was the lead back, but Jacobs got plenty of carries and helped augment the power running game the Giants love to use to help set up Eli Manning and the passing game. Brown could certainly slide right into the old Jacobs role, which would keep Bradshaw as the nominal starter and still offer Brown a chance to help. Rookie David Wilson doesn't appear ready to make a contribution just yet, and there's no harm in stashing him on the bench and continuing to develop him during the week. If they go to a Bradshaw/Jacobs-style sharing situation with Bradshaw and Brown, and Brown continues to outperform Bradshaw, they can gradually make a change and use Brown as the lead back.
This is a good problem for the Giants to have. Bradshaw's injury uncovered something in Brown they may not have known they had. It's hard to expect Brown to keep rolling up 100-yard games if they were to make him the starter, but perhaps imposing some kind of carry-sharing system could help maximize the strengths of both players. I wouldn't be surprised to see the Giants at least consider this going forward.