The Giants seem to be gifted with a deep and talented backfield, but if it’s not handled right, it could turn into a curse.
Blessed with three quality running backs, Big Blue has a trio that all bring different skills to the table. Veteran Rashad Jennings is 6-foot-1 and 230 pounds. And while he’s the primary banger in the backfield, he possesses enough receiving skills (30 receptions last season) out of the backfield to keep opposing defenses on their toes.
Andre Williams is 5-foot-11 and also 230 pounds, but has nice breakaway speed in the open field – as his career-long 50-yard sprintdisplayed last season. The former Heisman Trophy candidate out of Boston College finished with 721 yards rushing and seven touchdowns – a promising sign considering his uneven start.
Those two holdovers will be challenged by Shane Vereen, who signed a three-year $12.3 million free agent deal after his superb Super Bowl showing last season. Vereen, 5-foot-10 and 205 pounds, isn’t anywhere near the rushing threat as the aforementioned duo, but he’s arguably the league’s biggest receiving threat out of the backfield. Vereen tallied 107 receptions during his four seasons in New England, including a career-high 52 last season – and 11 in the Super Bowl win.
All three have a place in Ben McAdoo’s offense, but it’s just a matter of finding specific roles to match their unique talents.
Jennings said he welcomes the added competition, and isn’t worried about who becomes McAdoo’s go-to guy, or who gets the bulk of touches, because the veteran only cares about winning – something he rarely did during his previous stints in Jacksonville and Oakland.
“I expect a whole lot from this offense, from this [running backs’] room. We have talent across the board,” Jennings said. “The only thing I’m concerned about is helping this team win a championship … Whoever is on the field, that’s our guy.”
Jennings’s team-first mentality will be tested, as McAdoo has mixed up the position groups during team sessions. The 30-year old Jennings has seldom ran with the first-team offense, as he’s been seen working special teams and running with the second unit, while often giving way to Williams – with Vereen running with the first-team in obvious passing downs. Head coach Tom Coughlin has yet to display the first official depth chart yet, but with their first pre-season game coming next week, the order will likely be known soon.
The coaching staff has been really big on Williams.And there seems to be a specific role for Vereen, particularly on passing downs, which means Jennings could see his role shrink. It also doesn’t help that he’s not in his twenties anymore, and he’s coming off a season where he missed five games due to injury – and has never played a full 16-game season.
"I feel I got a lot to show. The [knee and ankle] injuries were tough. I fought back as much as I could from them [and] got hurt again. Some people thought I should have went on IR [injured reserve] after that, but I fought through just to finish,” said Jennings. “But I’m making a point that this year you’ll get the best out of me, because everyone only seems to remember the things that didn’t get done [and] the injuries. I want people to know that I’m going to be here for the team.”
The veteran thinks there’s enough to go around, and that already being immersed in McAdoo’s offense for a year can only help all involved.
“We’re comfortable. We had some ups and downs last year, but we also did some things very well,” Jennings said of an offense that finished the campaign averaging 427 yards and 30.7 points per game over their final four contests. “We’re starting to eliminate all those pre-snap and post-snap penalties … We now just focus on playing physical, poised, and sound and having a good time.”
How much fun the veteran has may still depend on his health and playing time. But for Big Blue, it’ll be a banner year if all three running backs can add their own flare to the offense.
Big Blue notes:
- Jennings may look and feel fresh, but his practice reps have been greatly reduced compared to last season. Perhaps the team is just being cautious with him due to his age and last season’s injury. The Giants have limited the amount of reps for wideouts Victor Cruz (knee) and Odell Beckham Jr. (hamstring), and tight end Larry Donnell (Achilles), so maybe that’s the plan with their veteran running back.
- One cause for concern for Jennings could be how the team disperses reps prior to submitting the depth chart. Last season, he and Donnell were the starters – the latter more of a surprise – and they never relinquished the position. And as of right now, it’s Williams who has been the primary recipient of first-team touches.