Who Will Spell Maurice Jones-Drew at RB?

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Who Will Spell Maurice Jones-Drew at RB?
(Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

When Maurice Jones-Drew joined the Jaguars in 2006, Jacksonville suddenly had one of the best running back tandems in the NFL.

Fred Taylor and MJD would take turns wearing out defenses. When the running game was on, there wasn't a defense in the league that could stop it.

The one game that really sticks out in my mind is the 2006 home game against Indianapolis. I've never seen a running attack be so effective at the NFL level.

In that 44-17 win, Jones-Drew rushed for 166 yards and two scores on just 15 carries. Taylor only toted the ball nine times but had 131 yards and a score. That performance typified how dominant the running game could be with Taylor and Jones-Drew in the backfield.

In Jones-Drew's rookie season, Jacksonville was ranked third in the NFL in rushing yards per game with 158.8. The next year, the Jaguars were second behind Minnesota with 149.4 yards per game.

Last year, the production dropped off dramatically. Jacksonville rushed for 110.9 yards a game. Seventeen NFL teams rushed for more yards per game than the Jaguars in 2008.

Obviously, much of that decline can be attributed to the decimated offensive line. But Jacksonville faces a new challenge this coming season, as the team released Taylor and signed MJD to a four-year, $31 million deal with $17.5 million guaranteed.

"Pocket Hercules" certainly deserved to get a pay raise. His rookie contract had him making about $500,000 a year, a bargain when you consider his production.

But with great money also comes great responsibility, and Jones-Drew will be the featured running back in 2009. Even though he's the starting RB, he can't do it alone.

Someone will have to spell Jones-Drew every now and then, and that's a point of concern when you look at Jacksonville's roster.

In addition to Jones-Drew, the Jaguars have five other running backs on the roster: Kyle Bell, Rashad Jennings, Montell Owens, Chauncey Washington, and Alvin Pearman.

Jennings and Bell are both rookies, while Owens and Pearman are best known for their contributions on special teams. Last season was Washington's rookie campaign, and he didn't see much action.

Owens got two carries last year, both of which went for touchdowns. The memorable one came on a trick play in the 30-27 overtime win against Houston.

Owens is entering his fourth year in the league, but last year was the first time he'd ever carried the ball.

Pearman didn't carry the ball one time last year and has 58 career carries. The most carries he's ever had in a season was his rookie campaign in 2005, when he toted the ball 39 times.

Washington, the running back out of USC, carried the ball four times for a grand total of nine yards during his rookie season.

With a lack of RB experience on the depth chart, it's hard to project which of these backs will step up and step in to the backup role.

One possibility is to see fullback Greg Jones carry the ball more. He hasn't had the same kind of burst since tearing his ACL in 2006. But he's still a load to try and tackle, and could give MJD a quick breather.

The word coming out of OTAs is that Jennings has been very impressive. Jaguars.com writer Vic Ketchman wrote the rookie RB from Liberty "has been eye-popping so far this spring."

Having had a chance to watch some film on Jennings, he looks like a tough runner with good field vision and decent speed when he gets through the hole.

It's hard to tell how much of his ability was magnified by the fact that he played against lesser competition. But don't be surprised if the 6' 1", 234-pound back emerges as the No. 2 guy.

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