New York Giants Must Perform Running Back Juggling Act Moving Forward
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The Giants' Week 9 bye gave the team an opportunity to reassess some of its injured backs in hopes of a healthy Week 10 return. Those backs included 2012 first-round draft pick David Wilson, the franchise's all-time rushing touchdown leader Brandon Jacobs (59) and Andre Brown, who will now sport a shin guard thanks to a twice-broken leg.
Both Jacobs and Brown practiced on Monday, but Wilson was held out of action yet again. After a hit against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 4 that caused numbness in his neck, Wilson was diagnosed with spinal stenosis. Steps to get him back on the field have been baby-sized, if that.
So, if both Jacobs and Brown are healthy when it's time to play the Oakland Raiders on Sunday, they will look to join recent veteran addition Peyton Hillis and seventh-round rookie Michael Cox in the backfield. However, a significant personnel move will likely be made before then.
Brown spent the first eight games on the injured reserve/designated to return list after breaking his leg back in August's preseason finale. Last year, after breaking out as a legitimate goal-line threat with eight touchdown plunges, Brown landed on that very same list with that very same injury.
Week 10 is the first in which Brown is eligible to return. Considering how badly New York has hurt for consistency at running back, the team would be wise to reinstate his services. In addition to his eight touchdowns in 2012, Brown rushed for 385 yards on 73 carries—a team-high average of 5.3 yards per carry. Despite a lengthy injury history, Brown is still only 26 years old. He is a downhill runner with reliable pass-blocking skills.
Upon activating Brown, the Giants will also need to remove a player from the 53-man roster. Since Brown would be the fifth running back on the active roster, it is more than likely that one of the other four backs will be the one to go.
The only question is which one?
The obvious choice would be the rookie, Cox. Head coach Tom Coughlin, as he is with all rookies, has been reluctant to extend Cox's duties. Cox has accumulated just 42 yards rushing this season, and he carried the ball just nine times in his first career start versus the Eagles in Week 8. With Brown back in the mix, the loss of Cox would not be terribly significant.
But that's not how the Giants typically roll. They've had clear opportunities to release Cox earlier this season, but Da'Rel Scott was instead given the axe—twice. It would be strange for New York to give up on its seventh-round investment now when its passed on similar opportunities in weeks past.
So, if Cox is safe, that has to put Jacobs and Hillis on notice, right? The two backs were picked up off the street this season—Jacobs after Week 1, Hillis after Week 6—and both are viewed as less-than-ideal options at running back. The Giants could easily cut the cord on either Jacobs or Hillis, both of whom are past their prime.
If Andre Brown returns for Week 10, which of the following is the most likely scenario?
Not so fast. Jacobs remains the team's only running back to eclipse 100 yards rushing in a single game this season, and he trails only Victor Cruz and Rueben Randle with three touchdowns in 2012. Hillis, on the other hand, has been instrumental in each of the Giants' past two wins, catching eight passes out of the backfield to complement the 38 carries he has toted.
That leaves just Wilson.
According to Ebenezer Samuel of the New York Daily News, Wilson's most recent MRI was "positive," but he is presumably out of commission until he is re-evaluated yet again in "several weeks." It's plausible that Wilson's value is enough for New York to hold out hope for the return of its indefinitely injured back in 2013, but that outlook appears grimmer with each passing week.
The most likely scenario involves Wilson's season ending on injured reserve, with the Giants moving forward with Brown as the starter and Jacobs, Hillis and Cox comprising serviceable depth in the backfield.
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