John Raoux/Associated Press
For most of their history, the Jaguars have been spoiled at the running back position. Since 1998, they have had either Fred Taylor or Maurice Jones-Drew (or both) in the backfield, both of whom were top-end running backs.
This season puts the Jaguars in some unfamiliar territory, as Jones-Drew was not re-signed following last season and Toby Gerhart was brought in from Minnesota to be his replacement.
Gerhart now joins the Jaguars, looking to carry the torch from MJD. He saw limited action backing up Adrian Peterson, but in what little action he did see he made his impact known. In his career, he carries a 4.7 yards-per-carry average, including an impressive 7.9 YPC average last year.
Gerhart is an extremely physical runner who uses his large frame (6'0", 231 pounds) to run through defenders rather than around them. Last year, Gerhart had 283 rushing yards, 136 of which came after contact, leaving him with a yards-after-contact average of 3.8 yards.
To put this in perspective, Marshawn Lynch and Adrian Peterson averaged 2.5 and 2.97 YAC, respectively, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
He has already been making a good impression in camp, with running backs coach Terry Richardson saying, "He's a horse. He's a big guy, and I talked to one of his former (position) coaches, and he was saying Toby had the strongest legs he's been around in terms of his leg drive and leg power. We're excited about that."
Denard Robinson is the other running back on the roster for whom everyone has high hopes. Despite being a fifth-round pick, Robinson had a lot of expectations last season. He was labeled "OW" (offensive weapon) due to the versatility he was expected to bring. Unfortunately, his rookie year culminated in just 20 carries for 66 yards, including a 24-yard run ending in a fumble at the 1-yard line.
It has since come to light that Robinson was suffering from nerve damage to his arm following a hit to his elbow in the 2012 season against Nebraska. According to Ryan O'Halloran of The Florida Times-Union (h/t Big Cat Country), Robinson had trouble keeping his hand open, impacting his ability to carry and catch the ball. O'Halloran disclosed some of the details of the injury, saying:
He didn’t have full strength in his hand and he couldn’t keep it open....
With nerves, you never know when they’re going to re-generate – it could be a day, two days, a year, two years, three years. With the time off this off-season and a lot of work, it came back for him.
Fortunately for the Jaguars, Robinson seems to have made a full recovery, which is already showing. They re-evaluated their expectations for him and have him focusing on just the running back position instead of spreading him across multiple positions. With the injury healed up, Robinson is looking more confident, according to John Oehser of Jaguars.com:
Robinson’s rookie struggles have been well-documented, focused mostly on ball security. But the nerve damage in his hand that hampered him much of his rookie season reportedly has healed and he looked far more confident during the offseason. Robinson has the speed and playmaking ability to change momentum and games, and showed flashes of that as a rookie. ... He won’t likely get as many touches as Gerhart, but Robinson’s playmaking is such that he doesn’t need a mammoth amount of carries to make an impact.
It is commonplace for teams to have a running back-by-committee approach, and the Jaguars are no different. They have the makings of a potent one-two punch with Gerhart and Robinson. If both players can live up to their potential, the Jaguars' running game could dominate the AFC South.