FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — Robert Saleh looks at the New York Jets' running backs and sees so many possibilities.
Speed. Power. Athleticism. Versatility.
Some — or all — of those descriptions can be applied to Tevin Coleman, Ty Johnson, La'Mical Perine, Josh Adams, Austin Walter and rookie Michael Carter.
“They all have a dynamic trait to them that could be pretty good in the system,” Saleh said, “especially with how the offensive line works and the way the zone scheme works, then working one gap at a time. So we’re excited about this group.”
Even if some outside the facility might have lower expectations.
“That’s an unknown group,” Saleh said. “People look at the names and they’ll assume there’s not much."
But the running backs have been a strength for the Jets throughout the early portion of training camp, with each seemingly ripping off a long run or making a nice run-and-catch play on a regular basis.
“Everybody's got good skills,” said Coleman, in his first season with the Jets. “Everybody can catch the ball, everybody can run the ball. We just compete.”
The running backs will be an integral part of the offensive system coordinator Mike LaFleur is installing with rookie Zach Wilson at quarterback, a version of the offense he learned under Kyle Shanahan while he was an assistant in San Francisco. The zone blocking scheme has inside and outside zone runs to power the offense — and uses a mix-and-match rotation of backs with motion and misdirection to make it effective.
“We get the ball all types of ways,” said Coleman, who played the last two seasons in San Francisco.
Coleman is the most easily recognized and experienced member of the Jets' backfield bunch. He has 2,937 yards rushing and 24 touchdowns in six NFL seasons, the first four in Atlanta. Injuries limited him to a career-worst 53 yards in eight games last season.
“He’s always been explosive and last year, unfortunately, he was pretty banged up and people thought, ‘Well, there goes another running back that just fell off a cliff,’” said LaFleur, who has coached the 28-year-old Coleman on three teams. “I think we’re all seeing right now that he still has everything left in the tank, so that’s been really cool.”
Johnson is entering his third NFL season after splitting last year with Detroit and New York. He opened some eyes with the Jets by averaging 4.7 yards per carry.
“He's a pretty unique dude because he’s extremely strong, he’s fast,” LaFleur said. “A one foot, cut and go guy. Also, he’s got really, really good hands, so he’s got really good versatility to him.”
Perine had an injury-plagued rookie season for the Jets, who drafted him in the fourth round out of Florida. He has looked healthy and improved in camp.
“You've got a powerful guy who's finally seeing what NFL football and running the ball is like,” LaFleur said. “He kind of got his feet wet last year and we expect some big things out of him.”
Adams is entering his fourth NFL season and third with New York after spending his rookie year in Philadelphia. He has shown flashes during his limited snaps, averaging 4.3 yards per carry.
“He’s kind of that unique build,” LaFleur said about the 6-foot-2, 225-pound Adams. “But with that, he really has a good feel with his hips and how to set guys up, put his foot in the ground and attack edges and get up and down.”
Walter was with LaFleur in San Francisco the last two seasons — with stops with the Giants and the XFL in between — and served as mostly a backup and special teamer. But he has shown nice speed out of the backfield in camp.
“Extremely smart kid,” LaFleur said. “He can put his foot in the ground. He’s fearless, he’s tough.”
And then there's Carter, who was taken in the fourth round out of North Carolina and has had arguably the best camp of all the running backs. He has flashed some eye-popping elusiveness and playmaking ability.
“He has such a good feel for holes and space,” LaFleur said. “When you think he’s about to hit something, he’s so tight to the ground and so under control that you really never know where he’s going to go. But it always seems like the right decision.”
While it's highly unlikely all six players will make the final roster, it's a collection of skillsets and talent — no matter the combination —- the Jets envision being able to give opposing defenses fits.
“Having versatility amongst your skill group, not having the same out of everyone is just key,” LaFleur said. “A defense gets used to fitting something and then all of a sudden the tempo changes.”
In the meantime, each of the running backs is enjoying the competition — and taking mental notes on each other.
“I like learning what other guys are thinking, what the guys are seeing," Johnson said. “So it’s been really great. And having all those guys that can do different things, it’s just like, oh, how can I add that to my game? How can I help him with his game? So it’s been really fun.”
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