NFL Nation: Bilal Powell

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.
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- They didn't draft a running back, but the New York Jets acquired one Friday on waivers, picking up veteran Daryl Richardson.

Richardson
Richardson was cut by the St. Louis Rams after two seasons. The former seventh-round pick showed promise as a rookie in 2012, rushing 98 times for 475 yards -- an impressive 4.8 average. His production dropped dramatically last season (only 215 yards and a 3.1 average), but a patchwork offensive line might have contributed.

The Jets already have added Chris Johnson to their backfield, giving them good depth. They also have Chris Ivory, Bilal Powell and Mike Goodson, who will attempt to return from major knee surgery and still faces a gun-possession charge from his arrest last May.

There is no guarantee Richardson will make it to training camp, but if he does, it won't bode well for Goodson's chances of sticking around.
As far as Rex Ryan is concerned, it's 2009 all over again.

He can only hope.

Johnson
On Monday, Ryan referenced 2009 when discussing his vision for the New York Jets' backfield, which now includes Chris Johnson. With Johnson, Chris Ivory, Bilal Powell and, possibly, Mike Goodson, the Jets have an "unbelievable amount of depth" at tailback, according to Ryan. He said it reminds him of '09, the heyday of the Ground-and-Pound era, when they began the season with Thomas Jones, Leon Washington and Shonn Greene.

Ryan refused to be pinned down in terms of his plans for Johnson, insisting his role has yet to be determined. This much appears certain: Johnson won't get 18 carries per game, his career average. Coming off arthroscopic surgery, and approaching his 29th birthday, the former Tennessee Titans star figures to be a complementary back.

"Nothing was ever promised that, 'You’re going to get X amount of carries,'" Ryan claimed. "We're going to have to compete for roles. No role has been determiened for anybody on this football team."

Johnson's surgically repaired knee (torn meniscus) could go a long way toward determining his workload. He has some arthritis in his right knee, according to an ESPN report, but it obviously didn't cause him to flunk the team's physical. Ryan said Johnson will be among several players limited in the offseason program.

Another player is Goodson, whose roster spot could be in jeopardy. Ryan said he hopes to have Goodson, but he didn't sound confident. Aside from the knee injury, he's dealing with pending legal charges (and a possible suspension) stemming from his arrest last May.

lastname
Goodson
"If Goodson comes back, we’ll see what he can provide," said Ryan, adding: "I don’t anticipate anything in the near future that he’ll be able to do, but we’ll see how he progresses."

Goodson was supposed to be the breakaway back last season, but that never materialized. Now it falls to Johnson, who ran a sub-4.3 time in the 40 when he came out of college in 2008. Some of Johnson's new teammates sounded excited about having him.

"He's a highlight reel waiting to happen," defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson said.

Quarterback Geno Smith said "the first thing that comes to mind is speed and home-run hitter. I don't know how many times he's broken runs for 50, 60 yards, but it seems like he does almost every week. He brings another explosive dimension into our running-back room."

Johnson doesn't break as many long runs as he used to, but anything is an improvement for the Jets.

The latest on DeSean Jackson, CJ2K

March, 31, 2014
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Took a rare, two-day respite over the weekend, so let's bring you up to speed on what's going on with the New York Jets:

As of now, they don't appear to be pursuing DeSean Jackson. If they are, they're doing a nice job of keeping it quiet. There was no contact between the Jets and Jackson's agent during his first 24 hours of his free agency, according to multiple reports. Am I surprised? Yes and no.

Jackson
Johnson
Despite some definite interest within the organization (we know owner Woody Johnson likes him and he's not alone), Jackson doesn't seem to be a fit in John Idzik's rebuilding plan, mostly because of character concerns, potential cost and the fact that they already have a big-money wide receiver on the books, Eric Decker. It's also a receiver-rich draft. That said, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, who coached Jackson with the Philadelphia Eagles, has endorsed the talented receiver -- and his opinion carries some weight. (See Michael Vick.) For that reason, I thought the Jets would at least make a due-diligence call.

Could they be lurking in the weeds, waiting for Jackson's asking price to drop? In the world of free agency, it's never over until the player signs on someone else's dotted line, so I wouldn't say the Jets are completely out of it. That the owner is interested (you know, the guy who signs the checks) leads me to believe there's still a chance. Of course, if they really wanted him, I think they would've tried to get him in the building ASAP. Jackson will visit the Washington Redskins on Monday; he reportedly is drawing some interest from the Oakland Raiders and Buffalo Bills. You already know how I feel about Jackson: Despite his talent, he's not a fit for the Jets.

There's also some Chris Johnson chatter on this snowy Monday morning. The Tennessee Titans are expected to trade or release the former 2,000-yard running back before the start of off-season workouts next week. I heard some rumblings a couple of weeks ago about the Jets' potential interest in Johnson, mentioning it Saturday in my Twitter mailbag. The NFL Network took it a step further Monday morning, saying the Jets do have some interest.

This might surprise some people because running back is thought to be one of the Jets' strongest positions, but take a closer look. There are deficiencies in the backfield, mainly no home-run threat and durability questions. Chris Ivory was a beast late in the year, but he's never played a full season. Mike Goodson has the kind of speed they need, but he's coming off ACL surgery and still facing charges from last year's arrest. Bilal Powell is a solid No. 2, entering the final year of his contract.

There was some buzz about the Jets' interest in running backs at the scouting combine, and I was told they were high on Donald Brown and Ben Tate in free agency. The chatter faded away, but there apparently was a stealth pursuit of Brown. The Jets made a bid, the New York Daily News noted Monday, but they lost him to the San Diego Chargers.

Johnson would be a nice addition because he's still fast, only 28 and would command respect from opposing defenses. But don't get your hopes up just yet. The conservative Idzik likes to flirt with the big names, but more than not, it doesn't progress to the serious stage. You also have to wonder why Johnson would be interested in the Jets, where he'd probably be part of a two- or three-man committee.

One last note: Linebacker Nick Bellore, one of the Jets' top special teamers, signed his one year, $1.4 million tender.

Sunday notes: Heard around the combine

February, 23, 2014
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Notes and observations from the NFL scouting combine:

1. Backs to the wall: This comes as a bit of a surprise, but I hear the New York Jets are exploring free-agent running backs -- namely Donald Brown (Indianapolis Colts) and Ben Tate (Houston Texans). Obviously, their greatest needs are wide receiver and tight end, with running back thought to be a secure position with Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell. But general manager John Idzik is a big believer in competition and depth. It also could mean that the troubled Mike Goodson is on thin ice. The bad boy from last offseason has legal issues, a surgically repaired knee and an upcoming $650,000 roster bonus. Why would the Jets pay that for a player in Goodson's situation? Both Brown and Tate have above-average running skills and they can catch the ball, a much-needed skill in the Jets' backfield.

2. Money to burn: When free agency opens March 11, the Jets should have at least $22 million in salary-cap space (not counting the anticipated veteran purge), but that doesn't mean they'll be spending like Kim Kardashian in a designer clothing store. Idzik still believes in building through the draft. "The draft is your lifeline," he said. "Free agency is phone-a-friend." That said, the Jets are expected to use the phone a few times. The feeling in the organization is they will sign a No. 2 wide receiver, a tight end (if they lose Jeff Cumberland), a veteran backup quarterback, a running back and a kicker (if they lose Nick Folk). They're optimistic about their chances of re-signing tackle Austin Howard. Yes, they have a fairly lengthy shopping list, but I don't see them breaking the bank for anyone with an $8-million-a-year-type deal. They will use the draft to find a potential No. 1 receiver and a pass-catching tight end, along with plugging some holes on defense.

3. QB quest: The Jets met with at least two quarterbacks, LSU's Zach Mettenberger and Eastern Illinois' Jimmy Garoppolo. The 6-5 Mettenberger, in the final stages of knee-surgery rehab, is an interesting prospect. Idzik, who scouted him in person during the season, is looking to add a developmental quarterback at some point in the draft. Mettenberger could be just that in the late rounds. I see the Jets going to training camp with Geno Smith, Matt Simms, a new veteran backup and a rookie.

4. Off the Mark: If the Jets decide they want to retain Mark Sanchez (unlikely), they will try to get him to swallow a massive pay cut. The amount of their proposal will tell Sanchez just how much they really want him. If they try to slash his base pay from $9 million to $1 million, it would be insulting, a strong indication he'd have no chance to unseat Smith. If they offer in the $3 million-to-$5 million range, with a chance to make more money with incentives, it would show they consider him a viable starting option.

4a. Butt fumble revisited: Former longtime GM and current ESPN analyst Bill Polian believes Sanchez has been unfairly stigmatized by the "butt fumble." "Unequivocally, the butt fumble wasn't his fault," Polian told me. "It's been played ad infinitum. The guard (Brandon Moore) got driven into him. Perception is often times reality, and that's what people think. If you ask the average person what they think of Mark Sanchez, they'd say the butt fumble. It wasn't his fault."

5. Legal tampering: The combine is the place where agents and teams meet to discuss free-agent deals. Technically, it's not allowed, but no one says anything. Curiously, a number of agents told me that teams are reluctant this year to discuss specific dollar amounts. It's likely that teams, concerned about having their offers shopped around, are waiting for the March 8-11 exclusive negotiating period to get serious.

6. Seen around Indy: Former Jets colleagues Mike Tannenbaum and Eric Mangini lunched together. Despite the awkward parting in 2009 (actually, Woody Johnson was the driving force behind Mangini's ouster), Tannenbaum and Mangini have remained close friends. Mangini, named last week as the tight-ends coach of the San Francisco 49ers, is working his way up the ladder on the offensive side of the ball. If he makes it to coordinator some day, he'll have the rare offensive/defensive coordinator on his résumé.

6a. Seen around Indy II: Rex Ryan and twin brother, defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, took a break from the combine to eat at a local Hooters restaurant. Naturally, they ended up on Twitter, posing in a picture with a group of Hooters' waitresses.

7. Give that man a pair of ear plugs: Former Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine's experience in a circus-type environment (the Jets, 2009-2012) should serve him well in his new job as the Cleveland Browns' coach. He got the job after 23 people turned it down (only a slight exaggeration), saw the two men that hired him get whacked (Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi) and was hit Friday with the news that the Browns reportedly came close to hiring San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh before turning to him. Pettine called the Harbaugh story "noise -- and my goal is to quiet the noise." He recently held a staff meeting in which he used a Power Point presentation to underscore the challenge before them -- two playoff appearances, one playoff win and 141 coaches since 1991. Said Pettine: "To turn around a franchise, you have to be extraordinary." Here's wishing him luck; he'll need it.

8. Best and worst: I thought Michael Sam handled himself extremely well Saturday in his first news conference since sharing he is gay. Facing perhaps the largest news conference in combine history, Sam was confident, yet not cocky, projecting the image of a young man who just wants to play football. On the other side of the news-conference spectrum was Miami Dolphins coach Joe Philbin, who fumbled his way through a Q & A that focused on the bullying scandal. He was all over the place, accepting responsibility in one breath but pleading ignorance in the next. How they fired longtime trainer Kevin O'Neill, portrayed in a negative light in the Wells report, was a low-class move. The Dolphins flew him to the combine and then fired him, two days before he was to receive an award in Indianapolis as the league's top trainer. He didn't attend the ceremony, but received a standing ovation when his prepared remarks were read to the crowd.

9. Respect for JC: It was interesting to hear offensive linemen talk about South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney, the possible No. 1 overall pick. Said Michigan tackle Michael Schofield: "I played a series against Clowney, and that was probably the hardest series of my life." Other linemen echoed similar sentiments. The Houston Texans, picking first, have a tough choice. They need a quarterback, but Clowney is the best talent in the draft.

10. Johnny Football speaks: Clearly, Johnny Manziel's mission at the combine was to shatter his image as a rock star-party boy quarterback. Asked to describe the difference between Johnny Football and Johnny Manziel, the former Texas A & M star shifted into third person. "Johnny Manziel is a guy ... I’m from a small town of Kerrville, Texas, 20,000 people. People make me out to be a big Hollywood guy, (I'm) really just still a small-town kid" -- who jets off to Vegas to party with the rich and famous.
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The New York Jets can upset the New Orleans Saints on Sunday -- yes, they can -- but they have to play the game on their terms. It has to be a street fight, old-school football, a game in the trenches. It can't be a basketball game, with Drew Brees leading the fast break, because the Jets aren't equipped to play that style.

The Saints are a finesse team, the model of what the NFL has become. The tenets that once shaped the game -- run the ball, stop the run -- don't apply to the Saints. They don't run it particularly well and they're giving up a league-high 4.8 yards per rush, but they're winning because they can throw it and catch it better than perhaps any team in the league.

The Jets recognize this. They respect the Saints, but they also believe they can knock them out of their comfort zone by playing big-boy football, smashing them in the mouth. Four weeks ago, they did it to the Atlanta Falcons, another team built around its skill players. The Jets see a lot of similarities between the Falcons and Saints, NFC South rivals.

[+] EnlargeChris Ivory
Ed Mulholland/USA TODAY SportsBruising back Chris Ivory of the Jets could do some damage against his former team.
"If we can handle Atlanta, we should, in theory, be able to handle New Orleans," linebacker Calvin Pace said Thursday.

It's not just a defensive thing. It's not just an offensive thing. It's an everything thing. The Jets have to set an early tone, on both sides of the ball, letting the Saints know it will be a two-chinstrap game, as coach Rex Ryan likes to say.

They can start by establishing a running attack, feeding Bilal Powell and ex-Saint Chris Ivory, who, no matter how much he downplays it, would love to rip a hole in his former team. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has done a nice job in his first season with the Saints, as his twin brother has pointed out every day this week, but it's hard to ignore that big, fat rushing stat: 4.8 yards per carry.

That's an engraved invitation for the Jets to impose their will on the Saints. They have to shorten the game, keep Brees on the sideline and make those New Orleans pass-rushers get dirty in the trenches, defending the run. They don't like to do that.

"Honestly, I feel like with the guys we have up front, we should be able to run the ball on everybody," right tackle Austin Howard said.

Everything the Saints do revolves around Brees and their high-scoring offense. When they jump to a quick lead, it allows Rob Ryan to be more aggressive on defense. It's easy to be a swashbuckling playcaller on defense when you have a 14-point lead every week. The Saints have 15 takeaways and 24 sacks, with 13 different players in the sack column.

"I think my brother is the only one without a sack on that team," Rex cracked.

For the Jets, it's all about Brees.

After getting shredded by a Brees wannabe, the Cincinnati Bengals' Andy Dalton, it's fair to wonder if they have what it takes to handle the real deal. The front four couldn't get close enough to Dalton to see the whites of his eyes, but it should have more chances against the Saints because of their vertical passing attack. Brees, looking downfield, will take deep dropbacks and hold the ball. There should be enough time for Muhammad Wilkerson & Co. to get home against the Saints' suspect line.

"We've shown we have one of the most explosive fronts in the game," linebacker Demario Davis said. "If we can cover for two or three seconds, and he's still holding the ball, I'm pretty sure somebody will be in his face."

Brees' favorite target is Jimmy Graham. He's a wide receiver in a tight end's body, and the Jets can't let him run freely through the secondary. He already has eight touchdown receptions, the same number as the entire Jets team. They want to get physical with him, show him the Bronx, so to speak. Cornerback Antonio Cromartie and safety Antonio Allen could take turns on Graham.

"I just have to get my hands on him and beat him up," said Allen, echoing the theme of the game plan.

The Jets have to play the game in the trenches, not on the perimeter. It's the only way to beat the Saints, a new-age team disproving the time-honored doctrines of the sport.

"I think the game has changed a little bit, obviously," Rex Ryan said. "When you're that prolific throwing the football, as they are -- and New England and Denver are -- that's how you get away with it."

The Jets have to turn back the calendar and go old school on the Saints. It's their only chance.
The New York Jets have been riding the mediocrity train for almost two years, having won back-to-back games only once in a 26-game span. Their record following a victory is 1-9, with an eye-opening average margin of defeat -- 17 points. Can't handle prosperity? That's an understatement. They're allergic to it.

They can change the perception Sunday in Cincinnati, where they meet the red-hot Bengals (5-2), who have won three straight. As Rex Ryan continues to tell his team, there's no league rule that prohibits winning two in a row. Pushing while trying to block a field goal? Yes. A winning streak? No.

Kickoff is 4:05 p.m. ET at Paul Brown Stadium. What to watch for:

[+] EnlargeGeno Smith
Ed Mulholland/USA TODAY SportsGeno Smith has yet to string together back-to-back wins this season.
1. Call him Geno (The Elevator) Smith: The Jets are up and down because their rookie quarterback is up and down. Geno Smith is 0-3 after wins, having played poorly in each game -- a total of one touchdown and seven interceptions in those contests. He was horrible in his two previous games against top-10 defenses (Pittsburgh Steelers and Tennessee Titans), and the Bengals are ranked No. 9 in total defense. The Bengals had gone 20 straight games without allowing a 300-yard passer, the longest streak in the league, but they surrendered 357 last week to the Detroit Lions' Matthew Stafford. They won't have their top defensive back, cornerback Leon Hall (torn Achilles' tendon), who covered the slot on third down. That could mean another big day for Smith and wide reciever Jeremy Kerley, who was deadly last week in the slot.

Oh, by the way: Since 2008, under defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, the Bengals are only 7-8 against rookie quarterbacks.

2. Battle for defensive-line bragging rights: This game features two of the better lines in the league. The Bengals' four-man front has combined for 12 sacks; the Jets' front (counting rush linebacker Quinton Coples) has 10.5. Bengals defensive tackleGeno Atkins is the most accomplished lineman among both teams. Since 2010, he has more sacks (24.5) than any interior lineman in the league. He'll be a huge challenge for the Jets' guards, Willie Colon and rookie Brian Winters. Truth be told, the Bengals pose problems across the board. Their ends, Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson, are tough assignments for Austin Howard and D'Brickashaw Ferguson, respectively. Ferguson is coming off a shaky performance.

At the same time, the Bengals won't have it easy with Muhammad Wilkerson & Co., but they got a preview two weeks ago when they beat the Buffalo Bills, who run almost the identical scheme as the Jets. Center Kyle Cook did such a good job of reading the Bills' fronts that he received a game ball. The Bengals refer to the Jets' defense as "Buffalo on steroids." That's a compliment, by the way.

3. A pair of two-headed monsters: The two teams share a similar philosophy in the backfield, each running the ground game through two players. Bilal Powell and Chris Ivory form a workmanlike tandem, steady if not spectacular (no runs longer than 27 yards). The Jets rode Ivory last week, but look for Powell to return to a prominent role. They need his cutback ability against the Bengals' aggressive front. The Jets are aware of a quote from Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who said: “They’re going to figure out probably in the first 15, 20 snaps that running’s going to be pretty hard against our front seven.”

The Bengals split the carries between BenJarvus Green-Ellis and rookie Giovani Bernard, a Darren Sproles type. The Bengals are a better offense when Bernard is on the field. They average 5.8 yards per play when he's in, 5.3 when he's out, according to ESPN Stats & Information. They've also been throwing to him more the last two weeks out of the backfield. He'll be a tough cover for the Jets.

4. Green vs. Green: The Jets have a lot of respect for Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green. Asked what advice he'd give cornerback Antonio Cromartie, who most likely will cover Green, coordinator Dennis Thurman said, "Get your hands on him and pray." This is an enormous game for Cromartie. If he can't contain Green, who has been targeted a league-high 77 times, the Jets have no shot. One out of every four throws to Green is a deep shot, so Cromartie had better stay awake. Green is third in receiving yards (619) and he has a hot quarterback, Andy Dalton, looking for this third straight 300-yard passing day.

Dalton has five players with at least 20 catches apiece, the kind of balance that will present issues for the Jets. Saferty Antonio Allen did a nice job last week on Rob Gronkowski, but this is Gronkowski times two. The Bengals use a lot of two-tight end packages with Jermaine Gresham and rookie Tyler Eifert, who sometimes lines up as a receiver in an isolation play. That could be a mismatch for a cornerback.

5. Special teams will be huge: Write it down. Both teams have a tendency to play close games, so field position and field-goal kicking will be vital. Who's hotter than Nick Folk? He's 16-for-16 in field goals, including three game winners. Former Jets place kicker Mike Nugent kicked the game winner last week in Detroit, so he has to be feeling good about himself. One thing about Nugent: He had no touchbacks in his last home game. His short leg on kickoffs could create some opportunities for new kick returner Josh Cribbs, who is familiar with the surroundings from his years with the Cleveland Browns. Oddly, Cribbs hasn't scored a touchdown of any kind in 18 career games against the Bengals.

W2W4: Patriots vs. Jets

October, 18, 2013
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Rex Ryan wanted his players so focused and well-rested for the New England Patriots that he told them to skip household chores for a week. On Sunday, we'll find out if the couch-potato approach worked.

It would help if they could hold on to the ball.

That has been the biggest difference between the New York Jets and Patriots over the last few years -- ball security. During their current five-game losing streak to the Patriots, the Jets are minus-11 in turnover margin. They give it away easier than day-old cheesecake at a bake sale. Can they reverse the trend? Kickoff is at 1 p.m. at MetLife Stadium, where the Patriots (5-1) will try to win their 13th straight AFC East game. The Jets (3-3) need a win to stay in the thick of the division race.

What to watch for:

[+] EnlargeGeno Smith
Mark L. Baer/USA TODAY SportsGeno Smith had a rough first game against the Patriots, going 15-for-35 passing with three picks.
1. A second look for Geno: Rookie QB Geno Smith should fare better this time around. Then again, it can't get worse than the first meeting in Week 2, when he threw three interceptions in the final 11 plays. His familiarity with the Patriots, coupled with a full week to prepare (Round 1 was on a Thursday), is bound to help. It's all about game management. Smith won't see a lot of pressure schemes from Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who will test the kid's patience by forcing him to dink and dunk. The Patriots may take a more conservative approach than usual if CB Aqib Talib (hip) doesn't play. Statistically, there's a big drop-off when he's off the field. Talib intercepted Smith twice in the first game.

2. Hey, Marty: Run!: Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg tried to establish a ground game last week, but he gave up after a quarter. This time, he needs to stick with it. The Patriots have gaping -- repeat, gaping -- holes in their front seven with DT Vince Wilfork and LB Jerod Mayo done for the season. DT Tommy Kelly also could miss the game, meaning they will start two unheralded rookies at defensive tackle -- Joe Vellano, an undrafted free agent, and Chris Jones, cut by two other teams. If C Nick Mangold and RG Willie Colon don't control the point of attack, something is wrong. Of course, this will require a commitment from the pass-happy Mornhinweg. The Jets will miss Mike Goodson's outside speed, but they won't need it if Bilal Powell and Chris Ivory can hammer away inside the tackles.

3. Frustrating Brady isn't enough: Can anybody remember the last time the Jets intercepted Tom Brady? It was Oct. 9, 2011: CB Antonio Cromartie picked Brady on the final play of the first half. Since then, he has gone 163 passes against the Jets without an interception. That's ridiculous. In Week 2, the Jets proved a dominant effort versus Brady doesn't mean much without turnovers. They held the Patriots to nine first downs, yet they couldn't create any takeaways and lost, 13-10. The Jets need a big day from their corners, especially Cromartie, who admitted he's having only a "C year." Cro & Co. need to be ready for a lot of quick screens, which puts a premium on tackling. Brady's receiving corps has 16 drops, the third-highest total in the league.

4. Dealing with Gronk: This changes things. Assuming TE Rob Gronkowski plays -- he was cleared Friday by doctors -- the Patriots now have a major weapon at their disposal, especially in the red zone. Their red zone efficiency sagged without the 6-foot-7 Gronk, Brady's favorite target. Since 2010, his completion percentage to Gronkowski is 72.2, about 10 percent higher than to other receivers, according to ESPN Stats & Information. In his last two games against the Jets, Gronkowski caught 14 passes for 191 yards and two touchdowns. If the Jets show as much respect to him as they did to Tony Gonzalez two weeks ago, you can expect double-vice coverage in the red zone. S Jaiquawn Jarrett also was heavily involved in the Gonzalez plan. Would the Jets put Cromartie on Gronk in certain situations? Just a thought.

5. Feed the green beast: The Jets, trying to establish a true home-field advantage, want their fans to be loud and green. Ryan asked fans to wear green, creating a "Green Out" effect. OK, fine, but it would help to grab the attention of the wine-sipping, shrimp-eating masses if they jumped to an early lead. The Jets have led for only 52 minutes in six games, half of which came in the win over the Buffalo Bills. A dynamic, game-changing play in the first quarter would help immensely. Maybe this is where Josh Cribbs becomes a factor. Maybe he can add some sizzle to the special teams. A big play on defense would help, too, but the Jets are allergic to takeaways. In fact, they've gone 207 passes without an interception. They can't be taken seriously as a top-tier defense unless they make some plays.
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Running back Chris Ivory said he's not unhappy with his role -- yet -- but he acknowledged Monday he's not getting the ball as much as he expected.

Ivory
"Honestly, I feel like it's been a little bit conservative," he said. "Hopefully, we get some things going. But it hasn't been as many [carries] as I thought."

Ivory has 34 carries in five games (he missed one game with a hamstring injury), 53 fewer carries than Bilal Powell. Ivory said the coaches told him he's the short-yardage back, yet he wasn't used Sunday on a third-and-1 from the Pittsburgh Steelers 2-yard line. Powell got the ball, and he was stuffed.

"I was actually supposed to be in there," said Ivory, adding that it was the short-yardage personnel grouping. "But [the coaches] told me to stay there on the sideline."

Ivory played only nine offensive snaps in the 19-6 loss, carrying the ball four times for 16 yards. He said he's not ready to make a stink yet because he believes his limited playing time has been dictated by the types of defenses they've faced, but he won't stay quiet for the entire season.

"I'm happy, I'm fine," he said. "I say that because we have a lot of ball left. But if it's close to the end of the season and it's still the same, I can say I wouldn't be too happy."

Ivory missed the bulk of training camp with a hamstring injury, falling behind Powell. His touches should increase now that No. 2 back Mike Goodson is out for the season with torn knee ligaments. But Ivory senses the coaches still don't have full confidence in his ability as a blocker in pass protection.

"Right now, I still don't think they really trust me all the way yet," he said. "Maybe in certain protections, but I'm not sure if they trust me all the way based on how many times they put me in. But I guarantee you, I'll gain it."

Actually, Ivory made a nice block on a blitzing linebacker in the third quarter. The play didn't end well, as Geno Smith threw his first interception.

Ivory was projected as the Jets' feature back. They traded a fourth-round pick for him and signed him to a three-year, $6 million contract, including $2.25 million to sign.

Locker Room Buzz: New York Jets

October, 13, 2013
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Observed in the locker room after the New York Jets' 19-6 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers at MetLife Stadium:

Pace
No consistency: Rex Ryan and several players lamented the team's lack of consistency on a week-to-week basis. In fact, the Jets (3-3) have managed only one two-game winning streak over the last 25 games -- and that occurred last season. "It sucks, man," linebacker Calvin Pace said. "We talk about how we want to be a playoff team, but to be a playoff team, you have to win more than one game [in a row]. If you win one, lose one, you're 8-8. We have to be better than that." Sitting a few feet away, the usually affable Sheldon Richardson refused to speak to the media. "It's called being mad as hell, and I don't want to talk to y'all," the rookie defensive tackle said.

Walking wounded: The Jets suffered four injuries -- CB Kyle Wilson (possible concussion), RB Mike Goodson (knee), WR Clyde Gates (shoulder) and RB Bilal Powell (shoulder), who insisted he was fine. That wasn't the case with Gates, who was seen in the locker room with his left arm in a sling. The Jets already are down a receiver, with Santonio Holmes (hamstring) likely to miss next Sunday's game against the New England Patriots. Losing Gates would hurt. Obviously, the backfield would take a hit without Powell and Goodson, whose injury could be serious.

Contradicting alibis: Geno Smith said his first interception, near the Steelers' goal line, was an intentional throwaway. Ryan gave a different version, saying he "would've liked to have seen him throw the ball away there and not force it." Looking at the replay, it sure looked like a forced throw into triple coverage. Graybeard S Ryan Clark read it perfectly and made the interception at the 1-yard line in the third quarter, ending Smith's streak of eight straight quarters without an interception.

Upon Further Review: Jets Week 5

October, 8, 2013
10/08/13
2:15
PM ET
An examination of four hot issues from the New York Jets' 30-28 victory over the Atlanta Falcons on "Monday Night Football":

[+] EnlargeGeno Smith
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsRookie Geno Smith leads the NFL in game-winning, fourth-quarter drives. He has three for the Jets this season.
1. Broadway Geno: This is what makes the NFL so compelling: A week ago, Geno Smith was a turnover-prone rookie, hearing whispers about his job security. Now he's Mr. Clutch, delivering one of the Jets' best two-minute drives in years to stun the Falcons. Years from now, this could be remembered as a turning point in his career. For now, he should savor the moment. Consider: He became the first rookie quarterback in the Super Bowl era to compile this trifecta on the road -- 80 percent completion rate, three touchdowns and zero interceptions, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Oh, by the way, he leads the NFL in game-winning, fourth-quarter drives -- three. How meaningful is that? Prior to this season, it happened only twice in Jets history by a rookie quarterback. One word: Wow.

2. Three-headed monster: Asked about the wide receiver injuries last week, Rex Ryan joked that maybe they should play the wishbone. Was he really joking? On a few plays, they actually used two halfbacks and a fullback in a pistol set -- Bilal Powell, Chris Ivory and Tommy Bohanon, respectively. In fact, they opened the game in that formation. Overall, the Jets averaged 5.4 yards per carry and used their personnel to the max. They had their full complement of backs for the first time, with Ivory (healthy) and Mike Goodson (suspension served) joining Powell. Ivory and Goodson combined for only eight touches, but the workload included 19- and 26-yard runs, respectively. David Lee's fingerprints were on the game plan. He's a former college coach who helped bring the Wildcat to the NFL. The Jets ran five plays for 33 yards out of the Wildcat. The emphasis on the backs, as well as the tight ends, was designed to exploit the Falcons' patchwork linebacker corps.

3. Don't say the words: There might not be a phrase in the English language that Rex Ryan despises more than "bend but don't break." As an aggressive defensive coach, that philosophy simply isn't in his DNA -- but it sure looked that way in this game. The Jets allowed 363 total yards, didn't put up much of a fight on third down (6-for-12) and let the Falcons control the ball on four drives of at least 10 plays. If you didn't know better, you might have thought the strategy was to play soft between the 20s and crank up the pressure in the red zone -- where the Falcons had been struggling. If that was the plan, it didn't work, as the Falcons scored touchdowns on four of five trips to the red zone. In the past two games, the Jets' once-formidable red zone defense has slacked off, as opponents have converted seven of nine visits for touchdowns.

4. The tough guys won: Overshadowed in the pregame hype, which focused on Falcons QB Matt Ryan and his weapons, was the Jets' superiority on both lines. It played out that way, as they dominated in the trenches. The Falcons ran up some pretty offensive numbers, dinking and dunking and claiming an 11-minute advantage in possession time, but they got pushed around up front. Coach Mike Smith, perhaps trying to convince his players they could outmuscle the Jets, took that fourth-and-1 gamble at the end of the first half, passing up three easy points -- the difference in the game. The Jets were forced to play a near-perfect game, but they did, thanks to Smith and PK Nick Folk (3-for-3).
The New York Jets (2-2) return to the prime-time stage for the second time in 25 days, facing the underachieving Atlanta Falcons (1-3) on ESPN's "Monday Night Football." This is a tough spot for the Jets.

They've lost four straight on the road, dating to last season, with a staggering minus-14 turnover margin. Under QB Matt Ryan, the Falcons are 34-6 at the Georgia Dome.

[+] EnlargeRex Ryan
Brad Penner/USA TODAY SportsJets coach Rex Ryan hasn't been shy about tossing his challenge flag this season.
Ah, but life isn't peachy in the peach state. The Falcons are trying to avoid their first three-game losing streak since 2007, before Ryan and coach Mike Smith arrived. They've already lost as many games as they did last season, and they realize a loss to the Jets could cripple their Super Bowl dreams.

In other words, the Falcons are desperate, and desperate teams with talent are dangerous. They're going into their bye week, and no team wants to sit on a three-game losing streak for two weeks.

What to watch for:

1. House money: There's no pressure on the Jets; it's all on the Falcons, who know there's only a five percent chance of a 1-4 team making the playoffs. No one is giving Rex Ryan's team much of a chance, but he's at his best as the heavy underdog. He spent the week talking up the Falcons' offense and Ryan, saying he's a notch below Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, but it's hard to believe he actually believes that.

2. QBs on the hot seat: Geno Smith needs to steady himself -- and the team -- after an awful performance in Tennessee. Unfortunately for him, he's not at MetLife Stadium. In two road losses, he has only one touchdown pass and seven turnovers, unraveling in both cases after his first turnover. If the Falcons get to him early, it could be a long night for the Jets. Smith has to be smart and protect the ball, a huge emphasis in practice. His turnover count, already at 11, is growing faster than the national debt.

Believe it or not, Ryan is feeling some heat from a frustrated fan base in Atlanta. His passer rating is an impressive 97.7, but they're averaging only 23.5 points per game, largely because of persistent problems in the red zone. In two of their three losses, Ryan had the ball inside the opponents' 7-yard line at the end of the game, with a chance to pull out a win. The results: An interception and loss of possession on downs. Ryan, criticized for not being able to win the big one, apparently can't score the big one, either.

3. A 2012 feel at receiver: Without Santonio Holmes (hamstring), the Jets will start Jeremy Kerley and Stephen Hill, who suffered a concussion only eight days ago. You can win with that tandem, but there are questions beyond them. Clyde Gates (knee) is questionable, and neither David Nelson (signed last Tuesday) and Michael Campbell (promoted from the practice squad) has played a down this season. And, let's not forget, TE Kellen Winslow (knee) is questionable. You have to think Winslow will tough it out on his bad knee, but he missed a lot of practice time, as did Hill. That impacts continuity, especially with a rookie quarterback who needs reps.

4. Marty under the microscope: This game will tell us a lot about offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. His quarterback is struggling with turnovers and his receivers are nicked up, so the logical plan of attack is to feed Bilal Powell, who began Week 5 as the AFC co-leader in rushing. Then again, Mornhinweg isn't a Ground & Pound kind of guy and he probably will try to exploit the Falcons' suspect pass defense. They're allowing 301 yards per game, including four plays of 40+ yards. The possible return of CB Asante Samuel (thigh) will help the Falcons, but they're vulnerable in the slot. Nickel back Robert McClain has allowed a 149 passer rating, according to Pro Football Focus. Bottom line: Don't expect Mornhinweg to radically change his approach.

5. Secondary revenge: The Jets' secondary should be in an ornery mood after getting carved up last week by Jake Locker and Ryan Fitzpatrick. They allowed four touchdown passes and a 129.8 passer rating, and now here comes WR Julio Jones, who leads the league in receiving yards and ranks second in yards-after-the-catch. Ryan has completed 73 percent of his throws to Jones, who is adept at using his 6-foot-3 frame to overpower corners. If the Jets can neutralize Jones, they win the game. The question is, how? He routinely beats double coverage.

The Jets will have to provide over-the-top help with a safety, but that would impact their ability to defend TE Tony Gonzalez in the middle of the field. Rex Ryan has to play the Falcons' tendencies, knowing which player to double in certain situations. You can bet he'll double Gonzalez in the red zone. He'll go to school on how his brother, New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, defended the future Hall of Fame in Week 1.

Upon Further Review: Jets Week 4

September, 30, 2013
9/30/13
12:50
PM ET
Four hot issues that emerged from the New York Jets' 38-13 loss to the Tennessee Titans:

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AP Photo/Mark ZaleskiDespite their 2-2 record, the Jets and quarterback Geno Smith are performing unevenly.
Who are these guys? The Jets finished the first quarter of the season at 2-2, demonstrating many of the qualities we expected from this group -- a defense-minded team with a mistake-prone rookie at quarterback. For the most part, they’ve been terrific on defense, especially at the line of scrimmage. Other times, such as Sunday in Nashville, they’ve suffered from shaky coverage on the back end. Offensively, they’ve been what we expected for 12 out of 16 quarters -- a struggling unit. They were prolific against the Buffalo Bills, but was that a mirage? Sure looks like it. The lack of discipline (44 penalties) is uncharacteristic and alarming.

Help the kid: Smith will remain the starter for the time being, so it’s up to offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg to figure out a way to help him. On Sunday, he should’ve leaned more on the running game instead airing it out. Bilal Powell averaged 5.7 yards per carry in the first half, gashing the Titans on some first-down runs, but he carried it only three times in the third quarter, when it still was a game. Look, I’m not going to rip Mornhinweg for being aggressive -- a week ago, he was hailed for his attacking mentality -- but he should dial it back a little when Smith slips into one of his funks. He already has eight interceptions, a season’s worth for some quarterbacks. It makes sense to feature the run against the Atlanta Falcons, considering wide receivers Santonio Holmes (hamstring) and Stephen Hill (concussion) are banged up and running back Mike Goodson is returning from a four-game suspension.

Cornerback issues: For three-plus years, Rex Ryan enjoyed the benefit of having two excellent cornerbacks, Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie. He never had to worry about bad matchups on the outside. Now that Revis is gone, Ryan is experiencing what most coaches go through. Darrin Walls became the third player to start at right corner, following Dee Milliner and Kyle Wilson. The once-formidable secondary doesn’t scare anyone anymore. The run-oriented Titans compiled a 129.8 passer rating, beating Cromartie twice for touchdowns and Walls once. I’m not second-guessing the Revis trade, but you can certainly criticize the Jets’ post-Revis plan, as Milliner was struggling before he got hurt.

Self-inflicted wounds: The numbers are damning -- 12 giveaways and 44 penalties. Let’s simplify: That’s 56 bad things in four games. If you throw in the 14 sacks allowed, it’s 70 bad things. It’s hard to win football games at that rate. That they have only two takeaways, meaning a minus-10 turnover margin, compounds the issue. It has to get better or else the Jets will be out of the race by Halloween, especially with a tough October schedule. Ryan’s team is leaking oil in a lot of places, and it’s too late for a full-service oil change.

Double Coverage: Jets at Titans

September, 27, 2013
9/27/13
12:00
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Jake Locker and Bilal PowellUSA TODAY SportsJake Locker, left, and Bilal Powell hope to build on big games when their teams meet Sunday.
Preseason expectations for the New York Jets and the Tennessee Titans were poor, at best. Rex Ryan and Mike Munchak were at the top of the list of coaches on the hot seat. They had questions at quarterback and critics wondering about the caliber of their defensive playmakers.

Those questions still exist.

But three games into the season, entering a head-to-head matchup in Nashville, each stands at 2-1. They each won last week despite major penalty problems.

The Titans' offseason included more than $100 million spent on a big group of free agents and a revamping of the coaching staff, including the addition of senior assistant/defense Gregg Williams.

The Jets were much about turmoil, particularly with the drafting of quarterback Geno Smith and his competition with Mark Sanchez. To set up the game, ESPN.com Titans reporter Paul Kuharsky and Jets reporter Rich Cimini got together to break things down:

Paul Kuharsky: How, Rich, have the Jets pulled off this start after such an ugly offseason?

Rich Cimini: You're right, Paul, it was an ugly offseason. Ugly preseason, too, with a rigged quarterback competition that ended with Sanchez's shoulder injury. But to its credit, this team has stayed focused and confident. It's too early to say the Jets have arrived, but they're playing good defense. For a change, they actually have a front three/four that can put pressure on the quarterback. In the past, Ryan had to rely on exotic blitzes to generate the heat. Now he has a young, talented defensive line led by Muhammad Wilkerson. Seven of their eight sacks last week came on four-man rushes. The offense exploded last week, for one of the most prolific days in team history -- if you can believe it -- but I think a lot of that can be attributed to a lousy Buffalo secondary. Smith has a big arm, but he's prone to two or three big mistakes per game. He already has seven turnovers, compared to none for Jake Locker. What can you say about Locker's development?

Kuharsky: He's really made nice, steady progress. I like my quarterback to do more than not make giant mistakes, and Locker showed last week that he might be capable of more. The Titans love his intangibles. In a lot of ways, they drafted him because he's the anti-Vince Young. Locker prepares well, works hard, understands the hard parts of being an NFL quarterback and earns the respect of his teammates and coaches. He's blazing fast and can really throw. He changed protections twice in the game-winning drive against San Diego, which is real progress. Still, it's a run-first team that wants to hand the ball to Chris Johnson and, when he's healthy, Shonn Greene. (I know Jets fans are sad he's out this week.) The Titans rebuilt their interior line to protect better, but even more so, they can establish and count on the run. How is the Jets' front as a run-stopping group, and how are the Jets running the ball to take some of the burden off the rookie quarterback?

Cimini: Bilal Powell is coming off a career day (149 rushing yards), but offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg isn't married to the idea of running the ball to take pressure off Smith. He has been pretty aggressive with his play calling, allowing Smith to attack downfield. In fact, he has nine completions on attempts that went 21 yards or longer, tied with Aaron Rodgers for the league lead. As for stopping the run, the front seven is doing a nice job. It's a younger, faster front seven than the one you saw last December in Nashville. Linebacker DeMario Davis, nose tackle Damon Harrison and rookie defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson have injected much-needed speed into the defense. They have held a couple of good backs in check, namely Doug Martin and C.J. Spiller. I'm really curious to see how they handle Locker and Johnson. Talk to me about the Titans' defense. Sounds like Williams has brought a different dynamic.

Kuharsky: Yeah, Jerry Gray might still have the defensive coordinator title and might still be calling the game. But the Titans are running stuff he never thought to install or call on his own, and they've got an attitude he wasn't able to instill without Williams. The Titans are blitzing more, they are playing more press coverage, they are hitting harder, they are more assertive and their confidence and swagger is well beyond what we saw last season. Williams is completely in the background, low-keying it. If the defense plays as it has, he could re-emerge as a candidate for coordinator jobs after just one year back from his suspension. Rex seems to have backed off the crazy pronouncements and is more low-key himself. Same guy being a bit more guarded, or is there more change to it than that?

Cimini: Ryan is in self-preservation mode. He has a new boss, general manager John Idzik, a buttoned-down guy whose objective was to send the circus out of town. He has changed the culture around the organization, and Ryan has bought into that mentality. So yes, the old bravado is gone. Selfishly, as a reporter, I liked the old Rex because he gave us plenty to write about. Another reason for the change in his approach, I think, is he realizes this is a fairly young team (three or four rookies in the starting lineup) and he doesn't want to put extra pressure on them by making outrageous statements. As a result, it's a lot quieter around here. Bummer.

Kuharsky: It’s always quiet down here, Rich. Hopefully, someone will make some sort of noise Sunday. I’m thinking it’s unlikely to be a Jets receiver. I know Stephen Hill did some good work against the Bills. But the Titans' pass rush and coverage might be fine against Smith and his receivers. They don’t rate very well, do they?

Cimini: Astute observation, Paul. The Jets picked on a couple of backup cornerbacks for the Bills, racking up numbers you'd expect to see from Peyton Manning and the Broncos. It won't be that easy against the Titans. Hill is talented, yes, but he's wildly inconsistent. He'll make your heart race with a big play, but he'll also break it with an easy drop. Santonio Holmes remains their best receiver. Last week's big game notwithstanding, he's not the Holmes of a few years ago, still not 100 percent after foot surgery. Bottom line: This is still a receiving corps with questions.

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Powell assumes role of Jets' lead back

September, 26, 2013
9/26/13
6:45
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. – The New York Jets may not have considered Bilal Powell their feature back, certainly not when they brought in Mike Goodson and Chris Ivory during free agency, but Powell’s durability has meant his number keeps getting called.

The competition for a spot in the rotation may have been beneficial in another way, however.

“I just came in more focused this year,” Powell said. “I just tried to pick up as much of the playbook as I could, and that allowed me to go out there, play more comfortable and play faster.”

[+] EnlargeBilal Powell
AP Photo/Charles KrupaBilal Powell is making the most of his opportunity in the Jets' backfield so far this season.
Last week against Buffalo, Powell ran for 149 yards, the third-most in the NFL for Week 3. He is the seventh-leading rusher in the league this season.

This week, since Ivory missed Thursday’s practice with a hamstring injury he sustained in the first quarter of the Bills game, Powell could find himself the No. 1 back again.

“He’s a very, very steady back, he’s always been dependable,” running-backs coach Anthony Lynn said. “He’s always had a skill set that can cover -- between the tackles, outside the tackles, receiving skills, blocking skills. He has a complete skill set, and that allows him to stay on the field. Even if he’s not the feature back he would be on the field a lot.”

Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said Powell is “deceptive” in that he plays bigger and stronger than the 5-foot-10, 204-pound player appears.

“He’s breaking tackles, he’s making guys miss,” Mornhinweg said.

Powell was asked how such a high-yardage game made him feel, and he replied “sore.” He’ll have to wait a week for relief, since Goodson’s suspension for violating the league’s substance policy won’t be over until next Monday. Even if Powell isn’t as big and broad as those backs, he hasn’t been injured.

In fact, when Ivory had a hamstring injury at the beginning of camp and Goodson was a no-show for undisclosed personal reasons, Powell got so many reps that Mornhinweg feared they would wear him out.

“I think [Powell has] handled it well, staying healthy, staying out of trouble doing all the right things,” said offensive lineman Willie Colon, whose locker is next to Powell’s. “It only adds weight to him for this offense.”

Jets coach Rex Ryan mentioned that some offensive players might have to move around if Powell and Alex Green are the only two active running backs for the Jets. Fullback Tommy Bohanon could move to tailback, and tight end Konrad Reuland would move to fullback.

“The past three weeks I’m the backup fullback pretty much,” Reuland said.

Bohanon said the Jets haven’t switched up a lot in practice with Ivory’s injury.

“It’s been a lot of the same,” Bohanon said. “Our Wednesday practice is our big run day and we had a lot of regular personnel type of runs where I’m just playing fullback. Once we get into Thursday, it’s just a lot of what we call nickel, which is just one-back runs. So that’s something that we did. It’s a lot of the same. I’ve always been in a lot of pass protections as a running back as well, so it’s not that different.”

Either way, expect Powell to be the feature back for possibly the next two weeks as Ivory and Goodson are slowly worked back in.

“I think he’s probably the most complete back I’ve ever played with,” Reuland said. “He literally answers the call in all aspects of what we’re trying to do. He’s a very valuable part of this offense.”

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