Listen to New York Giants running backs coach Craig Johnson talk about Rashad Jennings, and it sure sounds like the running back by committee approach the Giants used in 2015 is over.
Johnson said on Tuesday that Jennings was “probably playing as well as any back in football” over the final four games of 2015. During that stretch Jennings carried 79 times for 432 yards, averaging 5.46 yards per carry. He finished the season with a 27-carry, 170-yard game against the Philadelphia Eagles.
We have often wondered who was responsible for the four-man committee the Giants used last season. Johnson made it sound as though, unless he were at any pointed overruled by Tom Coughlin or Ben McAdoo, playing time was his to divvy up.
“I don't think anybody wants to play too many backs, because every back will tell you, I mean I've never met a back that has said, 'I don't need more carries so I can get in the rhythm.' Every time I've ever seen a back, they've all said that and I agree. But when you have some players who are going to be playing some, we're going to also try to do what's best for this team,” Johnson said. “He (Jennings) just got kind of hot, like game 13, and as I've told the guys, if you get that hot, I'm going to ride you. He got hot and I rode him and he kept playing and he was consistent and available for the next game and the next and he was playing that well, so I thought that was a great rotation and certainly easier for me.”
Johnson has five experienced running backs currently, plus rookie fifth-round pick Paul Perkins. Despite the added depth, Johnson said he would like to pare down the guys actually playing.
“What I've learned is that if you can have a couple of guys playing a lot, then a spare guy, that's the best way to go,” he said. “We're going to see if we can find the rhythm with a pair and maybe a third guy and, obviously, if it was like we finished the year, like Rashad finished, that would take care of a lot of problems.
“I certainly think the way he ended last year, he deserves an opportunity to go out there and be the starter, which is what he is. But there's going to be a lot of competition and he understands that, and I think he'll raise his game to that level.”
So, Jennings will get the first crack. If he does the job, the Giants will ride him. If he doesn’t, if the running game struggles, or if the 31-year-old gets hurt, then the guys gaggle of guys behind him will be looking for opportunities.
Here is what Johnson had to say Tuesday about some of those players.
The rookie fifth-round pick missed OTAs due to a league rule forbidding him from practicing until his UCLA class had graduated. Thus, he is behind. Johnson, though, said Perkins is “a really sharp kid” and that he is working really hard to get himself acclimated.”
Will there be carries for him?
“Right now, truthfully, he’s in the mix. Like all young players, we have to find a way to get him in the game and see what he’s going to do. His practice production is going to help us find out how much he’s going to get into the game, and when he gets into the games, he’s going to have to play. This is going to be a really good room. There are a lot of players who play, and he has to earn his spot. But I think he certainly has the determination to do that.”
The common theme with Williams, who had an awful 2015 season, is that he needs more carries to find a rhythm. Johnson said “That's probably correct of every single back I've ever met.”
“He would like that, I think every back would, but right now Rashad is the starter and Andre has to make the most of his reps,” Johnson said. “When he gets a chance to carry the ball, he has to do that just like everybody else does.”
It was some solid midseason play by Darkwa last season that really complicated the running back rotation.
“We weren't quite getting the rhythm that we wanted for whatever reason. I had to do a better job, it doesn't matter. But we pushed and got Orleans on the field about game seven, and he did a good job. He stepped in and really played well and when a guy plays well, I've told my room, he's going to play. We allowed him to do some stuff. “
If all of the backs emerge from the preseason healthy, my guess is that there is ultimately one spot on the roster for either Williams or Darkwa. How each handles their limited preseason carries will have something to do with who stays. Will the fact that Williams is a mid-round draft pick and Darkwa entered the league undrafted hold sway? Will the probability that Darkwa offers more special teams value be the determining factor? We’ll find out.
The best news, though, is that the Giants are going to try to do what they failed to do last season until it was too late. That is establish some rhythm with the ground game by identifying a featured back and trying to ride him as much as possible.