The running back position may be a bit devalued in today’s pass-happy NFL, but that doesn’t mean the position is obsolete.
Most teams have shunned the workhorse running back, and instead use a committee. The Giants are one of many teams that think along those same lines, which means they had to go out and build an interchangeable stable of running backs who could all do the same things, but with a little of their own flare.
Offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo has no problem mixing and matching his backs according to the situation, down and distance, and personnel. Tops on his list of priorities, though, is being able to pass protect for franchise quarterback Eli Manning. Of the three primary running backs – Rashad Jennings, Shane Vereen, and Andre Williams – Vereen may be the best at pass protection, as well as being a great safety valve for Manning in the passing game.
Vereen, who tallied 107 catches in his four previous seasons in New England, including 11 receptions in the Patriots’ Super Bowl win, already carved out his role as the third-down back. But that doesn’t mean that Jennings and Williams are useless in the passing game. Jennings has proven himself a reliable target out of the backfield during his career, while Williams has been diligently working during and after practice on his screen game. Neither will match Vereen’s pass-catching excellence, but when either is in the game, opposing defenses won’t simply key on the run, thinking they’re not a threat out of the backfield.
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Backup quarterback Ryan Nassib was the Giants’ leading rusher (30 yards on three carries) in their loss to the Jets, last Saturday, so that’s a clear sign that the offensive line is still a work in progress. But if or when the reworked line gels, Big Blue will sport a sneaky-good rushing attack. All of the aforementioned are capable of finding seams and able to wiggle through small holes – although Jennings and Williams are better suited at wearing down a defensive front than Vereen.
Jennings thinks there’s room for all three to effectively show their wares, adding he’s also a believer that the entire offense will get on the same page in time for the opener in Dallas.
“We’re showing some good things. I think we had a 14-play drive [against the Jets] that showed what we’re capable of,” Jennings said. “We’ve looked at the tape. We know where we are as an offense and a running backs’ room, what we need to build off of, see what we’re doing right, and mind any cleanup we need … the biggest thing is to clean things up and take steps forward in eliminating all the self-inflicted wounds, because that can’t happen.”
Should the Giants’ trio stay healthy, eliminate the mistakes, and see the blocking become more consistent, there’s a good chance that Big Blue’s running backs corps could be one of the league’s better trios.
Automatics: Rashad Jennings, Shane Vereen, Andre Williams, Henry Hynoski (fullback).
On the bubble: Orleans Darkwa.
The others: Akeem Hunt, Kenneth Harper, Nikita Whitlock (fullback).
Big Blue notes:
- The Giants reunited with safety Stevie Brown, who was recently released by the Houston Texans. Brown played for Big Blue from 2012-14, missing the entire 2013 season with a torn ACL. He enjoyed a breakout 2012 with eight interceptions, and a single-season franchise-record in interception return yards. Adding to his ACL injury, he also suffered a Lisfranc injury in the 2014 regular season finale, which essentially ended his first tenure.
- Wideout Victor Cruz (calf) said he’s still aiming for a Labor Day return to practice, because he knows head coach Tom Coughlin’s mantra all too well, and is holding out hope that he’ll be ready by the opener in Dallas: “I still think I’m right there. I know how Coach Coughlin loves his [saying that] guys that practice play [and] if you don’t practice you don’t play. Things happen, just a small setback. I’m just anxious to get through this and make it out the other end. Hopefully come Week 1 I’m able to get on the practice field and run around a little bit.”