Why a backfield-by-committee will work for the New York Jets

When the New York Jets signed former 2,000-yard rusher Chris Johnson last April, the main criticism the media put out there was that the 28-year-old’s best days were behind him. I couldn’t agree more.

The former Tennessee Titan star is not going to rush for 2,000 yards in a season for the Jets, the way he did in the 2009-2010 regular season. Even though Johnson himself thinks he can hit 2,000, as he told the New York Daily News earlier this month, he also told Jim Rome last summer that he could repeat the feat for Tennessee. But we all know that, while nothing is impossible, this just will not happen. The Jets are not asking him to make that happen, either.

“[Johnson]’s got some miles on him,” New York running backs coach Anthony Lynn told the Newark Star-Ledger Wednesday, “so we’re going to have to be strategic in how we use him, and when we use him, to keep him fresh so that he can be the explosive guy that I know that he can be.”

A tired CJ2K will not be a happy CJ2K. He might not even be a CJ1K for the Jets.

A tired CJ2K will not be a happy CJ2K. He might not even be a CJ1K for the Jets.

Running backs take the biggest beating of any position in football, so freshness is important. It’s a good thing the Jets already have two fresh, solid (if not flashy) running backs in Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell. They combined to average 4.27 yards per attempt last year, while neither carried the ball close to 200 times on the year. By comparison, Johnson had 279 carries for the Titans and only a 3.9 yard-per-carry average.

The Jets also signed RB Daryl Richardson off waivers from St. Louis to compete for a roster spot. Even if Richardson were not in the mix, three is no longer a crowd in NFL backfields. It should go without saying the star running back is a dying breed – the “running back-by-committee” came in vogue last decade, and now practically every team uses this approach to a certain degree. Even the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks are openly discussing giving some of Marshawn Lynch’s carries to backup Christine Michael, and Lynch was sixth in the league in rushing last year.

Chris Johnson is approaching age 30, which is 65 in running back years, so nobody can sincerely expect him to set the world on fire. He still has the elite speed that will come in useful when New York needs a big offensive play. I think he’ll make an excellent third-down back. (As of this week, ESPN’s Rich Cimini actually projects Johnson to be the third on the depth chart. Maybe he just sorted the running backs alphabetically by first name?) But if you must forget aspirations of another CJ2K season, also put aside qualms about a three-headed committee in the backfield. Some “strategic” use of Chris Johnson’s talents may be the most effective way for the Jets to run the ball in 2014.

News and Notes: Much in the same way that he did not come to mandatory minicamp last week, one-time Jet running back Mike Goodson did not show up for a New Jersey court appearance Thursday. Goodson was arrested last year on illegal drug and weapon possession charges. The Star-Ledger reported that, according to his attorney, Goodson could not get a flight from his Texas home due to “financial issues.” Goodson will go to jail if he misses his next hearing.

~I was hoping we’d get a Playbookgate update soon, and here it is. Current Bronco, former Patriot wide receiver Wes Welker denied New England ever actually had the Jets’ defensive playbook, saying Tom Brady’s exchange with former New York defensive assistant Mike Smith at Welker’s 2012 wedding was “playful banter.” See if you can follow along: “[Mike] used to say ‘So and so will cover you in the game. No, actually we’re going to double-team you.’ So I’d make stuff up, ‘Oh, this is our game plan going into it.’ Every once in a while you [say] something true just to throw them off. And [you’d] say ‘Is that true? Would they do that?’ It was just playing mind games a little bit.”