The running back competition has been a hotly contested battle all summer and the New York Jets finally gave a little sneak peek of which players are leading the pack so far in training camp.
Here is the initial “unofficial” depth chart from Florham Park.
- Tevin Coleman, starter.
- La’Mical Perine, second-team.
- Ty Johnson, third-team.
- Michael Carter, listed fourth.
- Josh Adams, listed fifth.
- Austin Walter, listed sixth.
Before we begin with our instant overreactions, let me just state that head coach Robert Saleh has called this position group a “rotation” from the get-go. Four of these backs will likely make the 53-man roster and receive touches within this rushing attack.
Having said that, let’s dive into the big headlines of this announcement.
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‘Teco’ Hasn’t Lost a Step
To me, there were only two ways this camp could have gone for Coleman (or ‘Teco’) after the one-year $1.1 million flyer the Jets took on him in March.
He was either going to look completely washed up and get beat out by the younger backs on the roster or the more likely scenario, he was going to begin the season as the starter because of his experience within Mike LaFleur’s system. More simply put, I thought he’d be the lead-back or get cut by the time we hit Week 1.
One of two extremes, and so far it has been the latter theory.
“Last year unfortunately he was pretty banged up and people thought, well there goes another running back that just kind of fell off the cliff and I think we’re all seeing right now that he still has everything left in the tank,” LaFleur said when speaking about the veteran in a recent press conference.
Coleman is a dual-threat that not only knows the scheme but the game itself. He’s been to two Super Bowls and played “in that fourth quarter with three minutes left,” as rookie Michael Carter put it.
The Jets offensive coordinator used one word to describe him, “explosive.”
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More Worried About Ty Than Carter
If you’re wondering why I mention Johnson slipping in the headline but not Carter (who’s actually lower on the depth chart), it’s because you expect rookies to climb depth charts as training camp progresses.
Every now and then you see a first-year player listed as the starter out of the gates, like with Hamsah Nasirildeen, but that usually doesn’t happen in a room with this much talent. To put him ahead of Coleman, Perine or Johnson would have been presumptuous, and somewhat disrespectful when each of the rushers has had their moments this summer.
I’m not worried about Carter, he’s looked dynamic and I’m sure he’ll get plenty of snaps when all is said and done. I’m more worried about guys like Johnson, Adams and Walter — only Johnson was the player people had high hopes for out of the three.
“[We] come out here every day to compete and that’s what we’re here for,” Johnson said during his media presser. He also acknowledged that it can be tough when you’re not getting those opportunities in games, saying that you have to “[keep] a positive mind state” and “just go” once you get on the field.
“I think competition is competition,” the former Detroit Lions RB stated, “but it’s great to have [different skill sets] because it’s like how can I add that to my game.”
LaFleur called Johnson a “pretty unique dude,” elaborating that he’s “extremely strong, fast and needs to be a one-foot cut and go guy.” The Jets OC added that he’s got “really good hands,” which gives him more versatility.
If Carter does climb the charts as expected, Johnson could become the fourth running back in a hurry. His competition is more so with Perine than it is the rookie.
Perine Gets Vote of Confidence
Many fans wrote the second-year professional off before OTAs, somewhat unfairly in my opinion. I wasn’t pleased with Perine’s rookie campaign either, but then I remembered that Adam Gase was calling the plays.
It’s true that other running backs like Johnson and Adams had more success last year than the Florida product under the exact same circumstances. I’m willing to give most 2020 rookies a pass though, considering they adapted to the NFL during a pandemic-shortened preseason. Perine also dealt with injuries on top of that.
Personally, I have yet to give up on sophomore. In fact, he’s impressed me during his first full training camp.
Apparently, I’m not the only one. New York Post beat reporter Brian Costello recently featured Perine in an article, noting that the second-year player “showed some burst” in practice with a couple of long runs. He wrote: “Perine has been overshadowed by rookie Michael Carter, but don’t count him out.”
Now for the Johnson supporters out there, this does not mean Costello and I are rooting against Ty. I still think that this system will support four running backs. It may not be every game, but injuries happen and sometimes LaFleur may just roll with the hot hand like Kyle Shanahan commonly does in San Francisco.
However, Perine is the best power-back in this core and he’ll be integral on plays where you need that extra push. LaFleur stated that the staff “expects big things out of him.”