The Jets come into the new season with plenty of hopes and new aspirations. After all, it is the NFL and any team has a chance on any given Sunday (or Monday, or Thursday, and some Saturdays). but the Jets are coming off a hopeful season in which they saw an all-time quarterback flame out before their very eyes and a collapse of epic proportions.
So why does this year feel different?
They have a new head coach in Rex Ryan who promises to bring a tougher, smash-mouth defense to New York and talks about hoisting Lombardi trophies, parades, and visiting the White House.
They have a new franchise Quarterback in Mark Sanchez who is already making a splash in the big city with 48-yard strikes and magazine covers.
But something else is brewing for the Jets that hasn’t gone unnoticed but hasn’t been front and center either, and that’s the emerging triple threat that has formed in the backfield.
“I think we should use all the guys because it’s a stable,” explains Ryan. “We got something that most teams don’t have, and that’s a great group of backs. It’s kind of like the old Csonka, Kiick and Mercury Morris days. They had three of them and found a way to use them, and we’ll do the same.”
Ryan is bold in his 1972 Dolphin comparison but he is not wrong to be excited about the prospect of having Thomas Jones, Leon Washington, and rookie Shonn Greene running amok and giving migraines to opposing defenses.
Last year, behind the gunslinging and eventually damaged arm of Brett Favre, Thomas Jones had 290 carries and set franchise marks with 13 rushing TDs and 15 overall. His 1,312 rushing yards were the most in the AFC.
Leon Washington is a multi-talented and explosive talent who garnered 448 rushing yards on 76 carries (5.9 yards per carry) and 47 receptions on an average of 7.6 yard per catch. He has also become one of the best kick returners in the business.
The Jets moved up 12 spots in the draft to acquire Shonn Greene with the 65th pick in the draft. In his first pre-season game, he produced 45 yards on nine carries. Helped by his 34 yard run in the third quarter and showing some of the promise the Jets saw.
In his last season at Iowa, Greene exhibited durability, consistency and power as he eclipsed the 100-yard mark in every game all while spectacularly averaging 6 yards per carry.
Watching the three weave and attack holes and create havoc behind one the NFL’s stiffest offensive lines should be a treat for fans, but how effective can they be?
Ryan believes he could get all three enough touches to be explosive. If anyone knows it would be Ryan who, as defensive coach of the Baltimore Ravens, watched as they made it to the AFC Championship game while Le’Ron McClain, William McGahee, and Ray Rice all had over 100 carries.
Other than Baltimore, only New Orleans had three running backs each carry the ball more than 100 times or more.
However, many teams are moving away from the traditional practice of having one featured back (only half of the NFL including the Jets) had more than one player take more than half the team's snaps last year.
Still, there are others who wonder if the big three can not only get enough touches to be effective but are unsure how they will fare without Brett Favre's arm to stretch out defenses and keep them honest.
Some also speculate that the drafting of Greene was merely an insurance policy for a possible trade of Thomas Jones, who himself along with Leon Washington, have sat out voluntary workouts during the off-season due to contract disputes.
It isn’t entirely implausible that Jones could be traded for something of a premier wide receiver. The Jets could use a deep threat or go to receiver since they lost Laveranues Coles during the off-season and are somewhat depleted at the position.
They would be trading from a position of excess and at the same time filling a glaring weakness. But Ryan denies that assertion calling the trade rumors “ridiculous.”
So while defensive schemes, contract negotiations, and Mark Sanchez’s status are ballyhooed about, the intimidating threat that has emerged from the backfield may prove to be the difference between playing into late January and staying home in December.