The saga surrounding the contract holdout of Jacksonville Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew grows more convoluted and contentious by the day, and with each passing news story it appears more and more likely that when the Jaguars open the regular season on September 9th in Minnesota, it will be with four-year pro Rashad Jennings as their starting tailback.
Jones Drew's camp and Jaguars owner Shad Khan traded barbs this week publicly. Trade rumors are flying around, although as Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com recently pointed out, the odds of such a deal actually happening are slim.
However, there also doesn't seem to be much progress being made toward getting the National Football League's leading rusher onto the field, and according to Albert Breer of NFL.com, at least one AFC executive believes that the Jaguars need to maintain their hardline stance with their star running back.
"You have to hold your ground, especially when he's not in camp," said an AFC personnel executive. "Now if he comes in, maybe philosophically, that changes things a little bit and you can circle the wagons and have dialogue and reach a common ground. But if he's holding out, while he's holding out, you can't move. I just wouldn't incentivize doing that."
With the two sides apparently dug in and unwilling to budge, the stage has been set for an impasse that could extend well into the regular season, which will place a great deal of pressure on Jennings to carry the load for the Jaguars on the ground in Jones-Drew's absence.
For his part, the 27-year-old appears up for the challenge after gaining 113 yards on 23 carries in two preseason games so far this year, and as Jennings recently told Gene Frenette of The Florida Times-Union, he's ready to do whatever the team asks of him until Jones-Drew rejoins the Jaguars.
"When opportunities are there to lower the boom on the field, you lower the boom, get those four ugly yards and move the chains," said Jennings. "The only thing I see right now is getting in a cold tub and getting ready for tomorrow. When [Jones-Drew] comes back, I'm going to hug him, jump on him, be excited, and play whatever role is asked of me."
Right now, that role is of the starting running back, and in the past, when afforded that opportunity, Jennings has acquitted himself fairly well.
Jennings made three starts for Jones Drew during a 2010 season in which Jennings rushed for 5.5 yards a carry. In those games, the former Liberty standout averaged 97 total yards a contest and scored a touchdown, including a Week 17 matchup with the Houston Texans in which Jennings gained 108 yards while rushing on 22 carries, the second time that year that Jennings topped 100 yards on the ground in a game.
However, there is a rather large question mark looming over Jennings regarding his durability. Jennings suffered a concussion in the first game of the 2011 preseason and a season-ending knee injury in that year's third exhibition contest, and while he's reportedly 100 percent now, those injuries have to be in the back of the minds of a Jaguars team that can't afford any more losses in the backfield.
Obviously, not having the league's reigning rushing champ on the field is a blow to a Jaguars team trying to regain respectability offensively, and Rashad Jennings would probably be the first person to admit that.
However, Jennings is also a hard-nosed, more-than-capable running back who has demonstrated the ability to get the job done when afforded the opportunity in the past.
Whether the Jaguars or their fans like it or not, it looks like he's going to get that opportunity again.