Sorting through a crowded backfield

May, 26, 2014
May 26
9:00
AM ET
When it comes to running backs, two is company, but three is a crowd.

No matter how coaches try to spin it in the offseason, it's difficult to employ a three-back rotation, giving each player a fair amount of touches. Look at the New York Jets' history: Over the last 20 years, only once did they have three running backs with at least 100 carries apiece in the same season. That occurred in 2006, the first year after Curtis Martin, when then-coach Eric Mangini somehow made the playoffs with Leon Washington (151 rushes), Kevan Barlow (131) and Cedric Houston (113). Washington, a rookie, was the only legitimate player among the group.

Let's fast-forward to 2014. The Jets have six veteran backs -- Chris Johnson, Chris Ivory, Bilal Powell, Daryl Richardson, Alex Green and Mike Goodson. You figure two of them won't make the team, but that still leaves you with four. That's a lot of mouths to feed.

Johnson averaged 18 rushes per game in his six seasons with the Tennessee Titans. Ivory averaged 12 per game last season as the Jets' leading rusher. Powell averaged 11 last season. That's a total of 41 rushes for their top three backs. As much as Rex Ryan likes to ground and pound, the Jets won't run 41 times a game (last year's average was 31), so this will require careful juggling by the coaches and ego subjugation by the players, especially Johnson, who is accustomed to being the star of the show. Chances are, the main backs will be Johnson and Ivory -- a.k.a. the Two-Dreaded Monster.

"Everybody’s goal is to put wins on the board," said Johnson, who probably will sit out OTA practices to continue rehabbing his surgically repaired knee. "We’re not really worried about the carries, who’s going to play this down and that down. We’ve all just got one focus and that’s winning."

Ivory echoed that sentiment, saying he welcomes Johnson to the fraternity. If nothing else, the Jets will have terrific depth at a position that incurs a high injury rate. How the various roles are defined -- third-down back, short-yardage, etc. -- will start to fall into place in training camp. For now, it's a the-more-the-merrier attitude. Everything is peachy in May.

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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