NFL Nation: Ryan Torain

New York Giants cut-down analysis

August, 31, 2013
8/31/13
6:43
PM ET
Most significant move: It was 2011 second-round draft pick Marvin Austin who was the odd man out of the numbers game at defensive tackle when the New York Giants announced their final roster cuts Saturday night. Austin was beaten out for a roster spot by former Eagle Mike Patterson, whose final two years in Philadelphia were negatively impacted by a brain condition for which he underwent surgery. Patterson and veteran Shaun Rogers were impressive in camp and will join a deep defensive tackle rotation along with starters Linval Joseph and Cullen Jenkins as well as 2013 second-rounder Johnathan Hankins. The reason the move is possibly significant is that this was the position from which the Giants were most likely to cut someone who could be of use to another team. If I'm the Dallas Cowboys, who are banged-up and shorthanded on the defensive line and play the Giants eight days from right now I'm looking into Austin if only for some intel on the enemy. Austin showed potential, but early-career injury issues held back his development, and he didn't perform well enough this offseason to earn a place on the team.

Shorthanded September?: Obviously, there are always more moves to come in the next few days as the Giants sort through the waiver process and see which players who just became available today could be of use to them. One spot where the Giants likely will look to beef up is at running back. They terminated the contract of Ryan Torain, leaving them with four running backs on the roster -- starter David Wilson, backups Michael Cox and Da'Rel Scott and "co-starter" Andre Brown, who's likely out four to six weeks with a fracture in his left leg. Keeping Brown indicates that the Giants do indeed expect him back at some point during the season, but it also leaves them with only three healthy backs to start the season. It's possible they could put Brown on injured reserve with a designation to return this season, but they can't do that until Tuesday. If they did, they could add a running back (or a player at some other position). Brown is one of at least seven players (along with Victor Cruz, Henry Hynoski, David Baas, David Diehl, Jason Pierre-Paul and Damontre Moore) whose status for the early part of the season is in doubt or worse due to injury, so there may not be a lot of wiggle room in picking inactives for the opener.

What's next: Based on performance, the release of Tyler Sash isn't overly surprising, but it does leave the Giants thin at the safety position and leads you to believe they'll try to acquire another safety at some point this week. The first name that will jump to mind is that of former Giant Kenny Phillips, who obviously knows the defense and was released by the Eagles last week. But don't assume they'll view Phillips as their best option. The main reason they let him go this offseason was their concern that he'd never be able to get his knee fully healthy, and the reason the Eagles (who aren't exactly strong at safety themselves) let him go was because he couldn't get healthy enough to practice. The Giants like what rookie Cooper Taylor has shown lately, and they like Will Hill as an option at safety, so they may decide they only need to weather the four games for which Hill is suspended to start the season. While Phillips is a possibility, there will be other choices, and likely a few the Giants like better.

Giants moves:

Waived: DE Matt Broha, OT Stephen Goodin, S David Caldwell, OL Matt McCants, CB Charles James, CB Terrence Frederick, WR Julian Talley, LB Kyle Bosworth, DE Adrian Tracy, DE Adewale Ojomo, DT Marvin Austin, OL Eric Herman, OL Bryant Browning, WR Kevin Hardy, WR Marcus Harris

Contracts terminated: QB David Carr, RB Ryan Torain

Waived/injured: S Tyler Sash, OL Selvish Capers

Reserve/physically unable to perform list: DT Markus Kuhn (knee)

Injured reserve: WR Ramses Barden (knee)

Suspended: S Will Hill

David Wilson is ready for more work

August, 30, 2013
8/30/13
3:12
PM ET
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- In the wake of Andre Brown's latest injury -- a left leg fracture suffered in the New York Giants' preseason finale Thursday night in New England -- running back David Wilson is prepared to work. Third-down carries, goal-line carries ... whatever they've got for him, Wilson wants it.

"I'm in shape, so I think I can handle it," the second-year back said Monday afternoon of the prospect of an increased workload. "Whatever they need me to do, I'll do. If they need me to kick a field goal, I'm going to go out there and give it 100 percent and try and make that field goal."

[+] EnlargeDavid Wilson
AP Photo/Julio CortezDavid Wilson will have to grind out tough yards for the Giants with Andre Brown injured.
It's not likely they'll need that, but Wilson could well get more touchdowns for whatever length of time Brown is out. Brown was the Giants' goal-line running back last year, collecting eight touchdowns in only 10 games before a more severe leg break ended his season early, and he was ticketed for that role again this year. But that assignment had more to do with how good Brown is at it than any concern over Wilson's ability to handle goal-line work.

"David Wilson, he runs in there hard," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "He's powerful. He's compact. He has tremendous leg strength. So for him to run the ball on short yardage and the goal line, I don't have any problem with that."

It's true that Wilson's electric speed and his relative short stature (he's listed at 5-foot-9, 205 pounds) contribute to a reputation that he's a finesse back. But when you watch him run between the tackles, it's easy to see that he runs with power.

"Don't get confused by my size," Wilson said. "I'm a physical guy. I'm from the country. I grew up chopping wood. I'm well put together."

So that shouldn't be an issue. The larger one is that Brown was the back the Giants were using on third downs and in critical pass-protection situations. The departure of Ahmad Bradshaw, who rates as one of the top pass-protection running backs in the league, has created a void in that area, and it seemed as though the Giants coaches were more comfortable with Brown picking up blitzes than they were with Wilson doing it.

But Wilson did a good job of that Thursday night, picking up a blitzing Patriots safety on a play that resulted in a 37-yard pass play from Eli Manning to Louis Murphy, and he said he's considerably more comfortable with the protection schemes than he was a year ago or even a month ago. He's been watching tape of Bradshaw and applying lessons Bradshaw and Brown have tried to teach him about blitz-pickup technique over the past year.

"He's done a pretty good job of that," Coughlin said. "The last couple of games, he's improved. He's a much improved player, much more aware of what he has to do to contribute in the entire pass-protection scheme."

Coughlin did say they wanted to monitor Wilson's snaps this year, and that there is a number they have in mind for him that won't change just because of Brown's injury. But it's possible the Giants could move more toward a "bell cow" running back scheme, with Wilson getting the vast majority of the significant carries while backups such as Ryan Torain, Da'Rel Scott and Michael Cox contribute when he needs a rest. Coughlin also said the team was awaiting the results of further tests on Brown's leg to determine how long he'd be out, and that roster cuts and the decision on whether to seek outside help at running back would wait until they had all of the information on Brown.

Meantime, Wilson is fine with whatever they throw at him. He wouldn't even mind if they gave him back those kick-return duties in which he was so explosive a year ago.

"We're still waiting for the verdict," Wilson said. "Michael Cox has been doing a pretty good job with it, so we'll see. I still want it, but if somebody's going to take advantage like he is, that's all right, too."

 
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. –- The New York Giants suffered yet another significant preseason injury Thursday, as running back Andre Brown broke his left leg during the Giants' 28-20 loss to the New England Patriots.

What it means: One week after losing safety Stevie Brown for the season to a torn ACL in a preseason game, Andre Brown breaks his left leg. It’s the same leg on which Andre fractured his fibula against the Packers on Nov. 25 last year. The Giants said Andre could have returned that season if they made it to the Super Bowl, so he could be a candidate for the injured reserve/"designated to return" spot that would allow him to come back after eight weeks.

Andre Brown’s injury is a blow to the running game. Coach Tom Coughlin wanted a one-two punch with David Wilson and Brown, who is the Giants’ most well-rounded running back. Brown could run with power and speed and catch out of the backfield and was the team’s best pass-protecting back. The team will now have to depend on and trust Wilson even more. Seventh-round pick Michael Cox might move up to the backup spot. Ryan Torain’s and Da’Rel Scott’s chances of making the team have increased with Saturday’s final cuts looming.

The Giants could also always look outside and see what is available, especially after teams make final cuts on Saturday.

More injuries: Brown wasn’t the only Giant to suffer an injury. Backup safety Tyler Sash suffered a concussion, and the Giants were already smarting there with the loss of Stevie Brown for the year. With Will Hill having to serve a four-game suspension to start the regular season, the Giants can’t afford to lose Sash for an extended amount of time. Rookie Cooper Taylor will be behind starters Antrel Rolle and Ryan Mundy if Sash has to miss time.

Also, tight end Adrien Robinson suffered an injury to what appeared to be his left foot. The severity of the injury wasn’t immediately known. Already this preseason, the Giants have watched starters such as Victor Cruz (heel), David Baas (left MCL), David Diehl (thumb) and the two Browns suffer injuries in preseason games.

Offense awakens: On a very small side note, the starting offense finished the preseason strong by scoring a touchdown in the red zone. After struggling in the preseason inside the opponent’s 20, Eli Manning orchestrated a 10-play, 91-yard drive that resulted in a 3-yard touchdown strike to Hakeem Nicks.

Manning opened the drive with a 37-yard completion to Louis Murphy. Manning also hit tight end Brandon Myers on a 10-yard gain, and Wilson had a 16-yard run as well on the drive.

One more time: Several Giants tried to make a final impression in the last preseason game. Defensive tackle Mike Patterson looked good, applying pressure to the quarterback several times and getting a sack and a half. Patterson might have solidified a roster spot with that performance. Marvin Austin, a second-round pick in 2011, might be fighting for a roster spot.

Middle linebacker Mark Herzlich also had a strong outing, snatching an interception off a deflection right before it hit the turf. Defensive ends Matt Broha, Justin Trattou and Adewale Ojomo all had sacks on Tim Tebow as well.

What’s next: The Giants will make final cuts on Saturday and play in Dallas in the season opener on Sept. 8.

Observation deck: Giants-Jets

August, 25, 2013
8/25/13
12:00
AM ET


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- It sure looked as though it would be David Wilson's night when the explosive second-year back ran 84 yards for a touchdown on the New York Giants' first play from scrimmage. And there's no denying Wilson's rare ability as a runner. He can make things happen that most other running backs can't when he has his hands on the ball.

However.

Wilson got only four more carries in the rest of the Giants' 24-21 preseason overtime loss to the New York Jets, while Andre Brown got seven. And I'm interested to see the snap-count numbers, because I believe Brown was on the field considerably more in the first half than Wilson was (neither played in the second). Of the eight third-down plays the Giants ran in the first half, Brown was the lone halfback on six of them, Wilson on one and both were in on one. Brown was also on the field (and Wilson on the sideline) for all four of the plays the Giants ran inside the Jets' 10-yard line. And in the second quarter, he got the bulk of the first-down and second-down work as well.

What's it mean? Well, I think the reason Brown was getting the third-down work Sunday night and again Saturday was because the Giants trust him more in pass protection right now than they trust Wilson. And I wonder if he started getting the early-down work for the same reason, because Eli Manning looked uncharacteristically uneasy in the first quarter behind a revamped offensive line that lost starters David Baas and David Diehl to injury in the Colts game Sunday. It's possible the Giants put Brown in because they're worried the depleted line can't protect Manning sufficiently right now, and if that concern were to linger into the regular season, Brown could end up getting first-down and second-down carries even then.

It's a real conundrum, because the Giants can't ignore what Wilson offers them as a runner, but their No. 1 priority is absolutely the protection of Manning. It's possible they do trust Wilson in pass protection more than it appears and they're giving Brown all the extra work in an effort to preserve Wilson for the season. But they weren't preserving any of their other starters in the first half Saturday night, and I know they like the way Brown has run the ball this summer. So this remains a situation worth watching closely when the regular season begins.

Anyway, here are some other things I took away from an unnecessarily late night at the Meadowlands:
  • The knee injury to starting safety Stevie Brown could be pretty serious. Giants coach Tom Coughlin said he didn't have any new information after the game, but he also said, "I feel bad for Stevie. He's been a tremendous addition to our team, and the guy has another interception and then that happens." Brown, who had eight interceptions last season and is one of the Giants' projected starting safeties this season as a result, appeared to go down without being hit while returning an interception in the first quarter. He'll surely have an MRI on Monday, and the Giants will hope the news isn't as bad as they fear.
  • Cornerback Jayron Hosley also left the game in the first quarter with an injury the team called an ankle sprain. He'll surely find his way into an MRI tube on Monday as well.
  • I'm not sure how Coughlin could watch the Jets and think he has problems, but he was sure upset about the way his offense performed in this game. Manning was 8-for-20 for 83 yards. The ground game averaged 2.5 yards per carry if you take out Wilson's first run (though, on the plus side, it was 6.0 yards per carry if you don't!). They were 3-for-18 on third downs. They allowed four sacks. They couldn't get in on four tries at the goal line. "It's very obvious that, in all three areas, we're not doing what we need to do on the offensive end," Coughlin said. "We've got work to do."
  • Jim Cordle played center in place of the injured Baas and got run over a couple of times, most notably by Sheldon Richardson on a play that resulted in a sack of Manning. Cordle said he struggled with the twists and other wrinkles the Jets front was throwing at the Giants. "Some of it was stuff I hadn't seen, but most of it was stuff we had seen and you've just got to reach a little bit faster," Cordle said. First-round pick Justin Pugh looked passable at right tackle, but there were communication issues along the line all night, as you'd expect with so much change in a short period of time.
  • Terrell Thomas got "20-plus plays," mostly as the nickel cornerback, in his first game action in two years. Thomas, who's recovering from two surgeries on the anterior cruciate ligament his right knee in the past two years, said he felt great playing again and will continue to build strength and confidence. Still no way to be sure what role, if any, he has on this season's team. The injuries to Brown and Hosley could conceivably create opportunities for him, though, if he shows he can play at a high enough level.
  • Wide receiver Hakeem Nicks wasn't on the same page with Manning all night, but he did make a one-handed circus catch along the sideline while being blatantly interfered with by Jets cornerback Kyle Wilson. And he delivered a key block on the edge to help spring Wilson on his big run. Nicks is the total package at wide receiver, and the most important thing for the Giants about him Saturday night was that he said he felt healthy.
  • Ryan Torain was the running back getting all of the carries once the second half started. The Giants like him as a pass protector as well.
  • Former Eagles defensive tackle Mike Patterson, who had brain surgery a year and a half ago after collapsing on the field during an Eagles training camp practice in 2011, looked impressive for the second game in a row. The defensive tackle play in general was a bright spot, and Patterson looks like a guy who deserves a spot in the rotation.
  • Finally, a word on the concept of overtime in the preseason: seriously? What a farce. In this era of supposed emphasis on player safety, the Giants and the Jets played half of an extra period to decide a winner in a game that doesn't count. Giants cornerback Laron Scott even got injured on a play in the overtime. I'd say the NFL needs to make a new rule that says preseason games can't go to overtime, but I'm astounded to learn that wasn't a rule already. It's preposterous that they'd even consider playing overtime in the preseason. Overtime is a mechanism for determining a winner in a game that ends in a tie. Preseason games do not require winners. Therefore, they do not require overtime. Pretty simple. Preseason overtime is one of the stupidest NFL things I've ever heard of. And you know, if you read me regularly, that I have a long list.

Anyway, I'll check in with you next week. Hope you enjoyed this game more than I did.

Observation deck: Colts-Giants

August, 18, 2013
8/18/13
11:31
PM ET

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- For the benefit of those who are new around here, I'll restate this: I simply will not overreact to preseason NFL games. If you, as a fan, want to do that, that's fine with me. But don't come here expecting me to join in. So if you want me to tell you to be worried that the New York Giants had trouble scoring in the red zone in Sunday night's 20-12 "loss" to the Indianapolis Colts, or that they struggled to cover receivers, or that Eli Manning didn't look sharp, too bad. You're going to have to go get that somewhere else. History clearly shows us that preseason games offer no predictive value whatsoever. Teams aren't game-planning for each other this time of year, and the fact that one team's offense/defense was effective/ineffective against another's on Aug. 18 is simply immaterial. How bad the Giants looked Sunday night means no more than how bad the Cowboys looked Saturday or how good the Eagles looked Thursday. It's the wrong place to focus.

So what we do here when we break down preseason games is highlight some individual performances or personnel patterns that might turn out to be noteworthy or significant. And, of course, we discuss injuries, which is where we will start Sunday night.
  • Wide receiver Victor Cruz and center David Baas both left the game during the first offensive series for X-rays, which turned out to be negative. The Giants say Baas has a knee sprain and Cruz has a heel bruise. Both are likely to get more tests, Baas especially. And while the news on Cruz obviously could have been worse, it's worth watching to see whether this is something that limits him this week in practice.
  • "He runs to make his living, and, obviously, he's got an issue with his heel," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said of Cruz. "Hopefully, it's not going to be a long thing. They're going to continue to do some tests on him."
  • Justin Tuck also left the game with a hamstring injury. Prior to that, I personally thought Tuck looked great. I'd singled him out prior to the game as someone I was going to watch, and in the first quarter he looked quick and energized as he hassled Colts quarterback Andrew Luck and batted down a pass. An energized Tuck would be a tremendous positive for the Giants this season, provided, of course, that energy comes with fully healthy hamstrings.
  • David Wilson is a lot of fun to watch run. He broke a 21-yarder and threw in a 16-yard reception on which he almost impossibly avoided falling to the ground along the sideline. But unless I missed one, there wasn't a single third down during his part of the game on which he wasn't replaced by Andre Brown. We know how important pass protection is going to be when evaluating these running backs and assigning them carries, and it seems clear that the Giants trust Brown more in pass protection right now than they trust Wilson. Brown looked good picking up blitzing safety Antoine Bethea on a third-down play in the second quarter that resulted in an 11-yard pass to Rueben Randle. Can that change before the season starts? Sure, and certainly before it ends. But a Wilson/Brown backfield committee looks like the plan right now. Brown had 36 yards on eight carries and caught one pass. Wilson had 34 yards on eight carries and caught two passes. Wilson did not return any kickoffs.
  • Michael Cox looks like a keeper, and not just because he looks like a non-Wilson option on kick returns. Cox had just two carries for four yards but also had two long receptions out of the backfield -- one for 20 yards and another for 28. "He's got a lot of fight," Coughlin said. "He breaks tackles, and he's very persistent in what he does. And he does the same thing on special teams, so he's making good progress." Cox is obviously ahead of Da'Rel Scott, who did not play in the game, in pursuit of a roster spot. And it's possible he could pass Ryan Torain on the depth chart as well, though Torain went into the game before he did and shows a lot as a blocker.
  • Right tackle David Diehl got beaten badly on a couple of plays, one of which resulted in an Erik Walden sack of Manning. But the Giants seem committed to playing him at right tackle over first-round rookie Justin Pugh, who's being brought along slowly. The offensive line is tough to judge because right guard Chris Snee barely played (he's still recovering from offseason hip surgery) and Baas went out early.
  • Lots of moving the linebackers in and out. Tough to pick out anything that either Mark Herzlich or Dan Connor did to separate himself in the middle linebacker competition. Jacquian Williams showed excellent speed and quickness in short-range coverage on a third-down pass attempt by Matt Hasselbeck to Robert Hughes in the third quarter. Williams is likely the Giants' best coverage linebacker and as such was used mainly on passing downs.
  • Justin Trattou had a sack on which he got help from Marvin Austin and Adewale Ojomo in collapsing the pocket. It was a decent night for the Giants' backup defensive ends in terms of creating pressure, even though they got only one sack. As for the defensive tackles, Austin looked fine on that one play but, in general, doesn't show much power at the point of attack. Second-round pick Johnathan Hankins looks like he could stand to get stronger as well.
  • Coughlin said last week that David Carr would play this game and Curtis Painter would play Saturday's game against the Jets. With fourth-rounder Ryan Nassib sure to make the team as the No. 3 quarterback, Carr and Painter are competing for the No. 2 job. Carr was just meh -- seven for 11, 57 yards -- and he got sacked three times. I guess if Painter looks great, he could win the job. But the Giants know and like Carr, so it's no sure thing.
  • And, finally, on the Reggie Wayne touchdown catch that first bounced off the hands of cornerback Aaron Ross: Ross said the lights blinded him and he lost the ball. He said he usually wears eye black or special contact lenses that help with that, but for some reason he wasn't wearing them Sunday. "Just one of those freak plays that thankfully doesn't count," Ross said. "I knew he was behind me, so as soon as I hit it, I looked back and … it was bad."

Preseason, though, Aaron. Just preseason. As Ross pointed out, it didn't count. None of it. And while Coughlin was annoyed about the performance, that's his job -- to keep giving these guys things to work on in the final three weeks before the start of the regular season.
NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

One key positional battle for each NFC East team as training camps get underway.

Dallas Cowboys: No. 2 tight end

The Cowboys used a second-round pick on tight end Gavin Escobar, even though starting tight end Jason Witten isn't going anywhere, and they liked what James Hanna showed as a receiver during his 2012 rookie season. They also signed veteran Dante Rosario and continue to look out for a more blocking-oriented tight end. What this all means is that the Cowboys would like to use more two-tight end sets in 2013 (and presumably beyond), largely eliminating the fullback position from their offense and offering quarterback Tony Romo a greater variety of options in the passing game. Training camp will help reveal the depth chart and the ways in which these guys all can expect to be used. Was Escobar drafted because they liked his ability to do something specific? Can Hanna hold him off for reps? How does Rosario factor into the mix? Change is afoot in the Cowboys' offense, and the tight end position is a big part of it.

New York Giants: Starting running back

David Wilson, their first-round pick from the 2012 draft, emerged as an electrifying kick returner in his rookie season and flashed big-play ability out of the backfield. He is the odds-on favorite to seize the starting running back role following the team's release of Ahmad Bradshaw. But, as is often the case, things aren't that simple. The Giants liked Andre Brown a lot as a goal-line back last season and used him a couple of times as a starter, with some success. He's back, and he doesn't intend to hand the job to Wilson without a fight. The Giants' backfield depth chart also includes veteran Ryan Torain, third-year fan favorite Da'Rel Scott and rookie Michael Cox. And these are the Giants, remember -- a pass-first offensive team that needs its running backs to pick up the blitz and help keep Eli Manning safe. Wilson offers the most upside as a runner, but it's entirely possible he could lose the starting job to a better blocker during this camp.

Philadelphia Eagles: Starting quarterback

What else is there? This is the big story of the Eagles' camp and will be one of the big stories in the NFL for the next month. Veteran Michael Vick has the experience, the foot speed and the arm strength, but new coach Chip Kelly wants a quarterback who can avoid turnovers, get rid of the ball quickly and make good, fast decisions in tight spots. These have not been Vick's strengths, which is likely why he faces a challenge from second-year quarterback Nick Foles and maybe even rookie Matt Barkley or veteran backup Dennis Dixon. Vick has to show that he's capable of running Kelly's offense the way Kelly wants it run -- and that he won't revert to his career-long tendencies to try to extend plays and make something happen with pure athleticism. If he can rein it in and operate the offense efficiently, it's his job. If he can't, one of the younger guys could snatch it from him and cost him his roster spot entirely.

Washington Redskins: No. 2 wide receiver

This would be the "Z" receiver in the Redskins' offense. Pierre Garcon plays the "X" position -- the outside receiver who lines up on the line of scrimmage. Santana Moss likely plays the slot again. The "Z" is the outside receiver opposite Garcon -- the "flanker" who lines up off the line of scrimmage to keep the tight end eligible and motions to different parts of the formation if that's called for. The candidates here are Leonard Hankerson, Josh Morgan and Aldrick Robinson. Morgan is the most polished and well rounded of this group, but he has trouble staying healthy. Hankerson is the one the coaches believe has the most upside, but he hasn't been able to develop consistency in his game. If he could, he'd be a valuable piece, because the Redskins believe they can use him in the slot as well. Robinson showed a lot of potential as a favored deep threat last season for Robert Griffin III, but he also has a lot to learn before he's a complete enough player to be used reliably here. Watch to see if Hankerson shows drastic Year 3 improvement in camp. If he does, it's likely his spot to lose, especially if Morgan is banged up as usual.
NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

How does each NFC East team look at running back, and what still needs to be done?

Dallas Cowboys

After a season in which they ranked third in the league in passing yards and 31st in rushing yards, the Cowboys seek greater balance in their offense. Any balance, actually. The starting running back remains DeMarco Murray, whose toughness and physical style give the Cowboys an extra dimension when he's on the field. Murray's problem is staying on the field, as he's had to miss nine games over his first two NFL seasons due to injury. The team let Felix Jones leave as a free agent and drafted Oklahoma State's Joseph Randle in the fifth round. It's no coincidence that Randle is a back who didn't miss a single game in his college career. The Cowboys needed someone durable and reliable to back up Murray, who's already struggling with hamstring problems this offseason, and neither Lance Dunbar nor Phillip Tanner showed enough in limited work last year to prove he was the backup they needed. What the Cowboys need at running back is to get and keep Murray as healthy as possible and to get Randle up to speed so he's ready to step in when he's inevitably needed as the fill-in starter.

New York Giants

The Giants let starting running back Ahmad Bradshaw depart via free agency, a difficult choice necessitated by salary and health concerns. That likely leaves the running game in the hands of 2012 first-round draft pick David Wilson, who opened eyes as a big-play threat and a kick returner in his rookie season, and Andre Brown, who functioned as a reliable goal-line back before an injury ended his season. Either should be able to handle full-time starter duties, and it's likely the team will split carries somewhat between them anyway. What the Giants need to do is establish whether Wilson and/or Brown can handle the pass-blocking duties at which Bradshaw excelled for so long. If one of them demonstrates superior performance in blitz pickup, that's likely to give him the edge for playing time over the other. With fullback Henry Hynoski out now with a knee injury, and with excellent run-blocking tight end Martellus Bennett now a Chicago Bear, the Giants remain on the lookout for reliable blocking backs. The recent injury to Tim Hightower shows that, and it remains to be seen whether Ryan Torain, Da'Rel Scott or seventh-round draft pick Michael Cox can be part of the solution.

Philadelphia Eagles

Every prediction about Chip Kelly's offense claims certainty that the Eagles will use the run game and the screen game more this year than they did in the past. LeSean McCoy remains the starter, and one of the best running backs in the league when healthy. Bryce Brown showed when McCoy got injured last year that he could handle starter's responsibilities brilliantly, but his fumble problems obviously must be overcome if he's to be trusted with significant carries. The Eagles signed Cowboys castoff Felix Jones for depth, and they still have Chris Polk, so the candidates for carries are plentiful this offseason. What remains for the Eagles is to establish the manner in which they'll distribute those carries (and catches) among their backs in an offense that will try to run as many plays as possible every game.

Washington Redskins

Sixth-round pick Alfred Morris came from the back of the depth chart last offseason to overtake Hightower, Roy Helu and Evan Royster to claim the starting running back job, and he quite literally ran with it. A perfect fit in Mike Shanahan's one-cut zone-blocking run schemes, Morris finished second in the NFL with 1,613 rushing yards as a rookie and delivered a 200-yard, three-touchdown masterpiece in the regular-season finale/division-title game against the Cowboys. Shanahan does love to play the volume game at running back, and he still has Helu and Royster as well as late-round 2013 draft picks Chris Thompson and Jawan Jamison. What remains for the Redskins is to figure out the pecking order behind Morris and work to find ways to use the talent they have at running back to ease some of the physical pressure on quarterback Robert Griffin III. It's also important to note that Washington was able to re-sign fullback Darrel Young, a key figure in a run game that led the league with 169.3 yards per game in 2012.
The New York Giants have, in recent years, become a passing offense behind star quarterback Eli Manning and their elite wide receivers. But in their hearts, the Giants still yearn to run the ball effectively to set up the pass and maintain balance on offense. For this reason, it's worth taking some time to examine the state of the Giants' running game heading into 2013.

[+] EnlargeDavid Wilson
Brad Penner/USA TODAY SportsDavid Wilson, provided he gets stronger in pass protection and blocking, will likely get most of the carries early-on for the Giants in 2013.
The Giants cut running back Ahmad Bradshaw earlier in the offseason. They did this for a number of good reasons, including the chronic foot problems that drastically limited Bradshaw the past couple of years and the fact they selected a running back, David Wilson, in the first round of the 2012 NFL draft. But the fact remains that the Giants said goodbye to a player who was on the field for 611 snaps last year (per Pro Football Focus) and have to replace him.

How will they do it? Well, they have said they believe Wilson, who was on the field for 125 offensive snaps last year in addition to his kick-return duties, can handle the full-time workload. Surely, they would not have used a first-round draft pick on him if they didn't think he could ultimately do that. The question now is whether he'll be ready to do it in this, his second season, after only 125 offensive snaps as a rookie. If not, they have to look at Andre Brown, who was on the field for 225 snaps last year, as a candidate to share significant snaps with the speedy young Wilson.

Brown started the Week 3 game last year in Carolina when Bradshaw was injured, and he memorably ran for 113 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries. But as the year went on and Bradshaw returned to regular duty, Brown was used effectively as a goal-line back. He had eight touchdowns before breaking his leg in the Week 12 game against the Packers and missed the rest of the season.

The Giants' roster also includes veteran running back Ryan Torain and third-year man Da'Rel Scott, either or both of whom could factor in before all is said and done. And they could sign someone else. They recently had veteran Tim Hightower in for a visit, so we know they're on the lookout.

The reason is that replacing Bradshaw won't be easy. Pro Football Focus gave him an overall rating of 14.2 for the year, which ranked him fifth among all running backs in the league -- behind only Adrian Peterson, C.J. Spiller, Alfred Morris and Marshawn Lynch. He rated a pedestrian 3.7 as a runner, but as a blocker Bradshaw's 6.2 rating was easily the best in the league. (Morris was second at 3.8.) Bradshaw was also PFF's ninth-ranked running back in the passing game.

For comparison's sake, Brown got a 5.4 overall rating from PFF, 5.8 as a runner, 1.2 as a blocker and -1.8 in the passing game. Wilson rated -0.5 overall, including a -0.6 as a blocker.

So you can see why someone like Hightower is appealing, since he's known as a very good pass blocker. The Giants are justifiably concerned about replacing Bradshaw's contributions in pass protection, so it's tempting to look at veterans they know can do it, even if they have rebuilt knees. Ultimately, I think the answer to the oft-asked question, "Who's going to be the lead back for the Giants this year?" lies in the ability of the backs currently on the roster to show more than they have shown so far as blockers. I think regardless of whether the Giants add another back, Wilson is going to get first crack at the job in training camp but will have to show he values pass-protection and blitz pickup among his top priorities. And if he doesn't, they'll mix and match with Brown and Torain and maybe some other guys to make sure they protect Manning as best they can. Because as I mentioned right at the beginning of this post, the Giants may want to run the ball, but they're smart enough to know they're going as far right now as their passing game will take them.

Looking at running back scenarios

March, 5, 2013
3/05/13
11:16
AM ET
After reading this from Calvin over the weekend about whether the Cowboys would pursue Michael Turner, and then this Monday from Mike Jones about the Redskins' running back depth chart, I thought to myself, "That's a good idea. Let's do a post on the NFC East running back situations." So, let's.

Dallas Cowboys

Assuming they move on from Felix Jones, the Cowboys will be in the market for a running back who can spell starter DeMarco Murray and, if need be, replace him when he gets injured. Unlike Calvin, I actually think someone like Turner or former Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw would work here. They need someone who's used to carrying the load, since it doesn't appear as though they can count on Murray lasting a whole season. And even if he did, they'd need someone who can replace him for long stretches during the game in order to help keep him healthy. I understand the temptation for a speed back as a change of pace, but Jones was supposed to be that and it didn't work. Why not a veteran grinder who runs with power and is used to playing in a passing offense? Someone like Phillip Tanner or Lance Dunbar could develop into what they need behind Murray, but it's not a bad idea to bring in someone with experience just in case they don't.

New York Giants

After cutting Bradshaw, the Giants appear set to go with second-year man David Wilson as the lead back and, assuming they re-sign him, Andre Brown as the goal-line guy. Maybe Brown's duties increase over what they were last year behind Bradshaw. And maybe Wilson isn't (a) ready or (b) the right kind of back to handle the running and pass-protection responsibilities in the Giants' offense. They ended the season with guys like Ryan Torain and Kregg Lumpkin on the roster for depth, and they could go back to one or both of them. I imagine they'll give Wilson the shot at the lead-back role, but they'll want to be protected in case he can't handle it. So don't be surprised if they bring a few backs to camp that you've heard of.

Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles look pretty well set with LeSean McCoy and Bryce Brown as electric playmakers in the backfield. They also still have Dion Lewis and Chris Polk kicking around for depth. I don't see this as a need area for the Eagles this offseason.

Washington Redskins

As Mike points out in that link up there, it appears the Redskins would like to find someone who can fill in for workhorse starter Alfred Morris on third downs. That could certainly be Roy Helu if he could manage to stay healthy, but to this point he has not done that, and Mike Shanahan will surely want to bring four or more backs to camp for depth and competition purposes. As great as Morris' rookie season was -- and it was fantastic -- this is a position at which Shanahan has a well-known history of trying to stay ahead of the curve. If the Redskins' running game hierarchy is altered in 2013 from what it was in its very successful 2012, it would not be a surprise.

Giants' Bradshaw could sit out Sunday

December, 12, 2012
12/12/12
4:56
PM ET
This is the second in a three-part series, which will run this afternoon and evening, on critical injury situations in the NFC East as Sunday's games get closer. Part II is about New York Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw, who now has a sprained knee in addition to the foot and neck problems that were already limiting his practice time this season, and might not be able to play Sunday.

It has generally been a mistake to believe Bradshaw would miss playing time, and he's earned his reputation as perhaps the toughest player on the Giants' roster. But the knee injury limited him severely in Sunday's victory against the Saints, and it's possible it could keep him out of this week's game in Atlanta. Per Ohm Youngmisuk:
"I am not going to speculate -- because of the toughness of this young man -- on how long it would be," Giants coach Coughlin said. "He is very positive about it and definitely wants to get back as fast as he can.

"I am not going to rule him out of anything. I am not going to talk about the percentages or anything like that. You can speculate on that knowing full well what the injury is."

Obviously, we watch Thursday and Friday to see whether Bradshaw practices. But this doesn't sound good. If he can't go, rookie David Wilson will take over as the starter. But while Giants fans might think that's fine because Wilson ran for 100 yards against the No. 32-ranked run defense in the league last week, it's no certainty that Wilson can hold up as the starter for a full game, let alone the remaining three games of this still-in-doubt season. Primary Bradshaw backup Andre Brown is already on injured reserve, and the only other backs on the roster right now are Ryan Torain and Kregg Lumpkin.

What now for the Giants' running game?

November, 26, 2012
11/26/12
12:00
PM ET
The good news for the New York Giants' running game Sunday night was that they rolled up 147 yards -- their third-highest single-game total this season and their highest since Week 6 in San Francisco. The bad news is that the back who led them in rushing yards in each of their past two games broke his fibula and will be out for a long time, likely the rest of the season. Andre Brown had established himself as more than just Ahmad Bradshaw's backup this season. He'd become a legitimate early-down back who could offer relief to the perpetually banged-up Bradshaw, and his eight touchdowns are a testament to his reliability at the goal line.

But Brown is out now, and the Giants have to find solutions in the run game in his absence. It's not as simple as increasing Bradshaw's workload, since Bradshaw's already barely practicing and always seems to be running through some type of injury. Bradshaw said after Sunday's game that the bye week had done him some good and he'd been in less pain Sunday night, but the Giants have been down this road before with Bradshaw, and they have to operate on the assumption that his body's just not up for 20-25 carries per game.

[+] EnlargeDavid Wilson
Jim O'Connor/US PresswireWith the reliable Andre Brown injured, can rookie RB David Wilson make an impact as Ahmad Bradshaw's backup?
Enter David Wilson, the first-round pick out of Virginia Tech who has a grand total of 102 yards on 24 carries so far in his rookie season. Wilson has found a role for himself as a kick returner, but the injury to Brown makes it all but certain that he'll start to see more reps on offense. The questions are about how many reps and when they will come. He's an imperfect fit in the role Brown was playing, and the Giants will have to make some adjustments as they work him into the game plan.

The good news is that they'd always planned to work Wilson into the game plan. He was their first running back off the bench in the season opener against the Cowboys, and had he not fumbled early in that game it's possible Brown never would have had the chance to make the contribution he made. The Giants' coaches have plays for Wilson, and ways in which they believe they can use him, so it's really just a matter of installing them into the game plan this week and in the coming weeks and hoping they work.

In order for those plans to work, Wilson will need to show an ability to be an asset in pass protection. He'll have to show an ability to find holes and grind out yards on early downs. And of course, he'll have to hold onto the football. Bradshaw is the more likely candidate to assume Brown's goal-line duties (a relief for all of his fantasy owners, to be sure). Wilson's value lies in his speed and explosiveness -- his ability to reel off a big play in the run game. If he shows he can catch the ball and pick up the blitz, he's liable to get a lot of third-down work, though they'll still need to use him to spell Bradshaw on first and second down.

The question is whether he can do it, and the Giants haven't seen enough yet to know the answer. That's not all Wilson's fault, or theirs. The main reason Wilson wasn't playing much is that Brown was playing well. It's important to remember that -- the fact that the Giants will be using Wilson to replace a player they weren't looking to replace. Wilson may well be up to the task of handling more regular NFL running-back duty, but if he's to replace the production Brown was giving the Giants, he'll have to play at a fairly high level. Even if the Giants believe he's ready for an increased workload, there's no guarantee he'll deliver what Brown was delivering as Bradshaw's top reliever and goal-line replacement.

But they have no choice but to find out on the go. Yes, they could go fishing for a veteran running back to add depth. They worked out guys like Joseph Addai and Ryan Torain during the bye week, presumably because they were concerned about Bradshaw's health, and it's conceivable they could sign someone like that. But whoever it would be would not immediately jump Wilson on the depth chart. If the Giants are going to maintain the success they had Sunday in the run game, they'll need Wilson to show something and they'll need to ask more of a battered Bradshaw. A couple of somewhat frightening gambles they have no choice but to make.

How you feeling? Redskins-Rams

September, 16, 2012
9/16/12
12:35
PM ET
As the Washington Redskins get set to take on the Rams later this afternoon in St. Louis, here's one reason for Redskins fans to be feeling good and one cause for concern.

Feeling good: The Rams' offensive line has major injury problems, and the Redskins' defensive front seven is one of the strengths of their team. They should have little trouble getting pressure on Rams quarterback Sam Bradford with outside rushers Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan, and if the Rams are determined to attack them with Steven Jackson and the ground game, they should have little trouble remaining stout on the defensive line. Even if Robert Griffin III isn't as brilliant as he was last week in New Orleans, the Redskins should be able to control this game on the other side of the ball.

Cause for concern: St. Louis did play very tough last week against the Lions, especially on defense and especially in the secondary. They had a historically poor run defense last year, when the Redskins were able to gash them on the ground with Ryan Torain, so you should expect to see a heavy diet of Alfred Morris and the Washington ground game at least to start. But if they can't get it going on the ground and have to take to the air, the Redskins could conceivably meet more resistance than many expect.
Three different running backs had a total of six 100-yard rushing games for the Washington Redskins in 2011. In spite of being the starting running back for the first four games of the season and five of the first six, Tim Hightower was not one of those three. But assuming he's fully recovered from the knee injury that ended his season in October, Hightower, who has agreed to terms on a contract to return to Washington, is the favorite to be the starting running back when the Redskins open the 2012 season.

[+] EnlargeTim Hightower
James Lang/US PresswireDespite the Redskins' depth in the backfield, Tim Hightower is the most likely candidate to start.
I've written this before, and likely will again, but every time I do somebody says, "Nunh-uh. Roy Helu is the guy. And Evan Royster looked good at the end of the year" or something like that. And long-term, Helu might be the guy. And Royster did look good at the end of the year. But I'm telling you -- and I am not just speculating here -- that the guy Mike Shanahan and the Redskins' coaches like as the starting running back, assuming everyone's healthy, is Hightower.

Shanahan sees Hightower as the most complete of the running backs on his roster. He may not be as explosive or dynamic a runner as Helu is, but he's a dirty-work guy who runs it just fine, catches the ball well out of the backfield and excels in pass protection as a blocker. This last point is likely the most important, since I don't know if you heard but the Redskins just spent four very high draft picks on a new rookie quarterback and likely rank his protection among their most important 2012 responsibilities. Shanahan and his coaches think very highly of Helu and Royster and probably rookie Alfred Morris, too, and they'll surely find plenty of carries and catches and responsibilities for all of them as the year goes along. But as long as they're sure Hightower's surgically repaired ligament isn't hindering him, he's the best bet to be running with the first team in August and September.

Now, the disclaimer: As anyone who plays fantasy football can tell you, predicting what Shanahan will do with his running backs from week to week is risky and sometimes foolish work. Part of the issue is Shanahan believes his zone-blocking schemes, when properly executed, have as much to do with his running backs' fine statistics as do the backs themselves. The Redskins tell their new offensive linemen that they can make stars out of running backs, and on a game-to-game basis last year they kind of did. Ryan Torain didn't get a single carry in the first three games of 2011. In Week 4 in St. Louis (granted, against an all-time lousy run defense), he got 19 carries and rushed for 135 yards. He would gain a total of 65 yards on 40 carries over the entire rest of the season.

So the 100-yard games Helu produced in Weeks 12-14, and the two 100-yard games Royster came up with in the final two weeks of the season, look real nice on paper. But Shanahan's not looking at those numbers. He sees a couple of young backs who have more work to do before they're as complete a back as Hightower already is. He sees Hightower as the guy he can plug into that zone-blocking run game and not have to teach him on the fly. There is absolutely nothing to say Helu or Royster or both can't become that kind of a back at some point in the future, or even by the end of this season. But as of right now, assuming full health and all else being equal, the Redskins' starting running back would be Hightower. And if you brought up the 100-yard game thing, I'm sure they'd tell you that Hightower's just as likely to get 100 yards in a game as any of those other backs are in this offense. And that they don't much care about that sort of thing anyway.
The NFL trend toward a state of (pass) happiness has not swept over the NFC West.

Go ahead and blame the quarterbacks, but realize, too, that the St. Louis Rams, Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers have sought run-oriented identities through their current head coaches.



The Rams' decision to draft defensive tackle Michael Brockers in the first round, understandable based on need alone, makes even more sense in a divisional context. The NFC West schedule delivers the Rams six games against Marshawn Lynch, Frank Gore and Beanie Wells -- three physical backs coming off 1,000-yard seasons. The 49ers also added 260-pound Brandon Jacobs to their backfield.

The Rams ranked 31st in rushing yards allowed last season. They allowed 5.7 yards per carry on runs up the middle, including 3.2 before contact. Those figures were worst in the NFL, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Brockers is 6-foot-5 and 322 pounds. Scouts Inc. rated Insider him as exceptional or above average in every area except pass-rush ability, where his grade was average. Brockers' grades were exceptional for run defense and durability.

"He's what you want in a defensive tackle, especially in our division with the downhill runs and things like that," Rams general manager Les Snead told reporters Thursday night. "One person I know that’s smiling right now is (middle linebacker) James Laurinaitis."

NFC East Stock Watch

November, 22, 2011
11/22/11
1:00
PM ET
NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

1. Giants' offensive line. It hasn't really been any good all year, but now it has begun to cost them games. The Giants were absolutely manhandled up front by the Eagles' defense Sunday night, unable to find anything at all in the run game or give Eli Manning enough time to throw. Brandon Jacobs is getting booed by the home fans, but he can't make the holes himself. The Giants look like a team that will continue to be in every game they play, including the tough ones, but it's going to be difficult for them to put together a winning streak against their schedule if they can't win those physical battles in the trenches.

2. Cowboys' secondary. They hung on to beat Washington, but Rex Grossman had a pretty good day against them. They miss cornerback Mike Jenkins, and if the injury to safety Gerald Sensabaugh is serious enough to linger, they'll have a tough time patching it together in time for Thursday's game. The good things for Dallas are that its offense is good enough to outscore teams and its next two opponents aren't big-time passing teams. But the Cowboys' defense did show some cracks Sunday, especially on the back end.

3. Redskins' running game clarity. Actually, it seems kind of clear to all involved that rookie Roy Helu is the team's best back. But Mike Shanahan keeps giving Ryan Torain the starts and bringing in Helu later. Shanahan said this week that part of the reason for that is not wanting to give the rookie too much too soon -- a strategy that speaks to where Shanahan and the Redskins are right now as a franchise. They're thinking long-term, and they don't want to overload Helu mentally or beat him up physically if he's part of the long-term plans. So while it may feel frustrating right now, it's all designed to make things better in the long run.

RISING

[+] EnlargeTony Romo
Brad Mills/US PresswireTony Romo is playing consistent football through 11 weeks.
1. Tony Romo, Cowboys quarterback. This was a game in which a number of things that had been going right for the Cowboys did not. They didn't dominate physically in the run game as they have been lately. They didn't make the stops they needed to make on defense. And yet, rather than force things the way he was when he was making so many costly mistakes earlier in the season, Romo was smart and efficient and deliberate and made all of the throws he needed to make to deliver a division win. He's in the middle of an excellent season.

2. Vince Young, Eagles quarterback. Man, did he look shaky for the first three quarters. He even looked shaky at times on that game-winning drive. But he made the plays he needed to make to deliver a win. And even if Michael Vick comes back healthy this week and Young doesn't start another game all year, he showed teams he added a win to his record as an NFL quarterback, which now stands at 31-17. That's Young's biggest selling point -- not the relative prettiness of his passes -- and if he wants to go find a starting job somewhere next year, that win is one more thing he can try to sell.

3. Eagles' and Cowboys' offensive lines. Maligned for much of the season as a weak spot, the Eagles' line has actually consistently ranked among the best run-blocking lines in the league. Sunday night, it also gave Young the time he needed to make plays. Their playoff chances are, at best, on life support, but their physicality up front on both sides of the ball is going to make them a tough team to play the rest of the way. As for Dallas, it is still shaky at center, and Doug Free isn't having a very good year. But the return of Montrae Holland to play left guard has really helped solidify things for them in the middle, and there's reason to think they'll continue to improve as the year progresses.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Insider

NFL SCOREBOARD

Sunday, 2/2
WEEKLY LEADERS