The NFL's Spark Plug

Training camp battles exist on every roster, and are one of the main reasons that coaches push their athletes hard in camp. They want to know who can gut it out for a complete season, and whose talent truly outshines one another. For the most part the athletes that have to out duel each other are backups or special team hopefuls. Solidified starters have the insurance to succumb to off-season rust, and work their way back into things. Coaches may not be happy, but it is expected with veterans. Getting back in shape, turns into the veteran aspect of training camp.

A starting running back is an overused term in today’s NFL world. Just because the running back is a starter, does not mean the stat column of carries will show that. The range varies greatly now with a lot of backs, and that is a good thing.

The term “starter” should be labeled as crutch carries. If the starter is used too much they are going to miss a stretch during a season. The span could be a few weeks to the whole year and be a severe crutch all season for the franchise. If the crutch carries were reduced, who knows how that could have prevented an injury.

With the majority of teams becoming smarter and using a tandem split carry system, it has changed running backs into an even more dynamic force. Backup running backs are like the sixth man off the bench in basketball. They are an important catalyst that brings that unexpected change of pace that can ignite a drive.

A couple of years ago the designated backup running back, was either a brute fullback type goal line runner or referred to as a scat back. Versatility has changed that, as big backs have enough shiftiness now and the Warrick Dunn’s and Tiki Barber’s of the world have thrown scat back out of NFL terminology.

Running backs are going to get banged up, and it has nothing to do with the size of the back. They get hit all the time, and it just takes that one hit to cause the same type of injury on a 200 pound back or a 230 pound back. You can look at trends and durability, but if a back is being pummeled the stress is too immense on the body. Teams now have lessened the load a bit, to prevent early wear and tear on their main backs.

Jamal Anderson is wondering where the extra five to seven carries off his back were in 1998.

A quarterback may be thrown to the ground ten times a game, and the affects are vivid on the next sequence of plays. A coordinator may have to call a run or a screen, just because the quarterback is shaken up that bad. When the off-season comes around the quarterback can be heard saying they will be resting up, from the beat downs they have taken.

If a quarterback is that bruised, imagine how a running back feels midway and at the end of a season? It is unimaginable and amazing that a back can come back and repeat another successful campaign. Stringing seasons of greatness together is going to fade out more and more in the future.

When Ricky Williams carried the football 775 times in two seasons with Miami, his mind probably started hallucinating for more reasons than what he was smoking. The benefits of him walking away for a year, probably has completely changed the future duration of his career. Miami was working his legs to feel like they were forty when he was only in his mid twenties.

No one wanted to talk about that when Williams announced retirement last season. The fact that Ronnie Brown is in Miami, makes Williams even happier. He will be lucky to get 150 carries. Meaning he will go from carrying 775 times in a two-year span, to 150 in a two year span. That is a huge drop off rate, and will be enough to recoup his legs to the status they should be.

Everyone is worried about Tennessee’s new tandem of Chris Brown and Travis Henry. Who is going to win the job? Is Tennessee ready to write off Chris Brown?

Quit worrying, this is the latest style of backfields and it is only going to grow. Look at the league a year or two ago, compared to now. The numbers have jumped drastically in the new look philosophy of having a collegiate type tandem system at running back.

What this system does more than anything is bring out the second running back’s skills even more. Is the starter a product of the offensive line or a legit hands down number one back? Watching Kansas City last season, you could say that maybe Priest Holmes would only be a great instead of stellar back on another team. When Derrick Blaylock and Larry Johnson are able to have monster years, it is an obvious fact.

Flip it the other way around. If a running back is off to a struggling year, and suddenly the backup is showing more, than ding-ding there will be a new starter. It is the type of judgment coaches think they have locked down in the off-season, but there is only one way to find out and that is in a real game.

Bettis-Staley… Dillon-Faulk… Dunn-Duckett…Westbrook-Bulkhalter. Those were the backfields of the four teams that made it to their conference championship game. Success is strongly dependent on use of depth in the backfield.


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