A lot of talk this year has revolved around Shonn Greene and his role in the running game, but beyond Greene there’s something interesting afoot in the Jets backfield. More than ever, players seem to be taking on hybrid roles in this new Sparano offense …
Positions: Backup QB, Wildcat Focal, Red Zone Back
Analysis: There’s probably a million reasons the Jets brought him in, but one of the most interesting ones was that Sparano and Rex both believed he was their type of player, and that he could be used in a number of ways. The Jets love getting as much from every roster spot as possible, so while he brings a circus, having a backup quarterback who can shuttle in and out of the game to run the Wildcat, who averaged five yards per carry so far in his pro career and who can make a timely deep pass (see Steelers postseason game) every now and again is going to bring a fiendish component to the offense: a Wildcat back who can throw a decent long ball.
Positions: F Tight End, Fullback
Analysis: Baker is called a “swiss army knife” routinely by his coaches, and recently Sparano said Baker has “Chris Cooley type” skills. Rex and Sparano love guys who get their nose broken, then return to the field as soon as possible. Baker might not have the size to be the in-line guy that the team is looking to find, but at 244 lbs. with improving technique and the willingness to block, he has enough size to block effectively for this offense. With the amount of max protect Sparano used in Miami, players like Baker can make a big although unheralded impact as blockers. With the Jets Dustin Keller about to become a free agent at the end of this season, there has to be some question as to whether a player like Baker would be a better longer term fit for Sparano’s system
Positions: Halfback, Fullback
Analysis: Sanchez referred to Ganaway as a player that was impressing him so far in camp, and also referred to the north-south Baylor product as a fullback in the same interview. Ganaway is a bruiser back and while he carried the ball in college more than he blocked, the Jets have been interested in a fullback who can do more than just block for a long time. In Miami, Sparano used Lex Hilliard and Patrick Cobbs in a non-traditional fullback role. Could the Jets look to implement something similar with Ganaway in New York?
The Jets have already broadcast the notion that they are going to run the crap out of the football in 2012, which means opponents will flatten their defenses, flood the block and leave the Jets two options. First, bring an extra blocker into the equation on offense to level the playing field, or second, use their backfield in non-traditional ways to loosen up a defense and get them reacting to the offense’s tendencies.
The Jets could have three newish players this year that could be used out of the backfield in a myriad of ways. Tebow can become a bruising runner, or loft a deep pass better than Brad Smith ever did for the Jets. Baker can catch a ball or two for the Jets, but has the right mindset to be a punishing blocker whether from the line or in the backfield. Ganaway gives the Jets another player they can use to open holes for Shonn Greene, or give him a break on short yardage plays. In Miami, Tony Sparano had Lousaka Polite as the classic-style blocking fullback (Conner in New York), while Patrick Cobbs and Lex Hilliard lined up as fullbacks but with more versatile assignments (handoffs, catching the ball in the flat, etc.). In fact, Cobbs & Hilliard were often used in three-back formations.
Could the Jets plan to implement something similar with their backfield? The tailback could be Greene or McKnight or Powell, while Conner, Baker, Ganaway, even Keller can see time as blocking backs. Mix in Tebow’s ability to run, occasionally play a classic blocking back (what the QB was actually called back in the day) or throw long passes, and the Jets backfield could be a veritable back to the future Single Wing, Wishbone, Reverse Wishbone or some such insanity. The Jets offense might look very conventional this year, but I have a strong sense that we’re going to see some interesting formations and usage of personnel by the Jets in 2012.