Jan. 1, 2012; Jacksonville FL, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew (32) stiff arms Indianapolis Colts linebacker Ernie Sims (55) during the first half at EverBank Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Stamey-US PRESSWIRE

Maurice Jones-Drew's New Role

Maurice Jones-Drew is the face of the Jaguars.  No matter what Nike tells us with its flashy advertising and pictures of Blaine Gabbert in the new duds, it is always Jones-Drew.  However, Jones-Drew is obviously not the big play maker he once was.

Fred Taylor could do it all, in the later stages of his career it was beyond helpful to have Maurice Jones-Drew in the backfield with him. Source: Brett Davis-US PRESSWIRE

No longer does Jones-Drew return kicks.  No longer does Jones-Drew come in with fresh legs every 5-7 touches.  No longer does Jones-Drew turn every play into a big play.  And that’s a good thing.

MJD became a national icon for his big plays when he was a spell back for Fred Taylor.  His ability to bust loose for 20 to sixty yards was something special to watch.  In the days of Devin Hester returning anything and everything for a touchdown, MJD was doing pretty well down in Jacksonville.  And, with his older age, MJD has managed to effectively transition his game to what most people expected it to be when he entered the league: a grinder.

A grinder, a bruiser, pounder, what have you is a running back that gives you that 3-5 yards every time he touches the ball.  Sometimes he’ll take it to the house, sometimes he’ll just give you those three yards you need.  You know that every time he touches that ball, the defense gets worried having to take him down.  Maurice Jones-Drew’s size at 5’7″ is low to the ground, difficult to tackle, and more beneficial for a short yard burst through the opponent’s line to get those 3-5 yards.  His early days of bouncing outside and outrunning the longer-legged competition was something to marvel at and opened the door for players like Baltimore’s Ray Rice to emulate.

Seriously, Jacobs is a Giant! Source: William Perlman/THE STAR-LEDGER via US PRESSWIRE

Jones-Drew will never be Brandon Jacobs.  He won’t be some giant barreling down on the opposition like a colossus that can’t be escaped.  Instead, he will be a true grinder, making you appreciate him for sheer effort.  Like Rudy, but more successful.

Pete Prisco of CBS sports notes that MJD isn’t as explosive as he once was:

Jaguars sources say he isn’t nearly as explosive as he used to be, and I would agree.

However, rather than saying this as a bad thing, I think it’s a good thing.  It’s a transition to a new role.  In a high tempo offense more balanced than in years past, the Mike Mularkey led Jaguars are going to need a grinding running back to punish the defensive line for their devoted pass rush after they’ve been running the previous down to keep up with the movement of the offense.  MJD is the man for that job.  Let some other spell back be the dynamite that explodes into the second and third level.  It’s what Rashad Jennings is there for, to provide that extra bit of flash and dash (something Deji Karim failed at last year).

Teams can be very successful with a strong grinding running back, especially with a player built for the role.  Jerome Bettis did it for years with the Steelers.  He provided a force that the opposition just couldn’t bring down.  That is the type of role that Maurice Jones-Drew is being put into.  There’s still some explosion in his legs, but it isn’t quite the same as it once was.  But he has the skill, foresight, and knowledge to last longer than bruisers like ex-Tennessee running back LenDale White or ex-Browns running back Peyton Hillis.  It takes skill to get over 1,000 yards in the NFL, don’t get me wrong.  But to do it consistently or to hover around 800-900 while abusing the opposition and abusing your body is difficult.

But when you talk about an explosive player, it doesn’t have to be the plays that that player does all on his own.  It can be the plays he sets up.  Sure, there will be some (MJD ran a 56 yarder in 2011), but there will also be those plays where he gets the ball and wears out the defense to free up Laurent Robinson on a post or Mike Thomas down the seem.

Rashad Jennings is more than capable of spelling Maurice Jones-Drew effectively, let him be the explosive aspect of the running game. Source: Thomas Campbell-US PRESSWIRE

All due respect to Pete Prisco, truly, but being explosive doesn’t mean that you don’t deserve to be the face of the franchise, the featured player, or a new contract.  The role that Jones-Drew is carving out for himself is one of transition, dependability, and an ability to move the ball whenever and however a coach wants.  Let someone else be that explosive back, and when Maurice Jones-Drew takes another one to the house from 20+ yards out….let the defense be wary.

We’re talking about a player that will be dominant into his thirties.  A player that plays through injuries, poor team play, and can make a difference whether he’s providing that extra bit of flash or just blocking linebacker twice his size.  MJD’s  new role in the offense will be more balanced, less focused on him.  And to be honest, he’s at the right point in his career for that to be the case.

- Luke N. Sims

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Tags: Baltimore Ravens Blaine Gabbert Brandon Jacobs Chicago Bears Cleveland Browns Devin Hester Fred Taylor Jacksonville Jaguars Jerome Bettis Laurent Robinson LenDale White Maurice Jones-drew Mike Mularkey Mike Thomas New York Giants Pete Prisco Peyton Hillis Pittsburgh Steelers Rashad Jennings Ray Rice Tennessee Titans

  • KeenanJ

    Goodness Luke, you deserve a round of applause for these recent articles of yours. All insightful, well said and accurate to the point they’re touching on. Very nice job.
    Now to the topic of discussion. To add onto what you’re saying here, I’m expecting MJD to start being used more in pass protection and as a catcher out of the backfield a lot more often going forward. While MJD my have a lost a step, he’s still very good in both aspects of pass blocking and being a target in the pass game. I believe that as the passing attack makes strides, we’ll see MJD return to being a playmaker (although with less occasion) as new running lanes open up for him to exploit, as defenses puts more emphasis on defending the pass. Saying that, I believe that Blaine becoming what we’re hoping he can become is the best thing that could happen for MJD at this point. If it ever gets to point where teams are more concerned about Blaine throwing the ball, than MJD running it, I can only imagine the difficulty a defense would have trying to stop our offense.
    Lastly, I know Maurice wouldn’t be too happy about this, but I’m really hoping Rashad gets more chances this year. The guy averaged over 5 yards a carry his first two years and I don’t believe that was by accident. Not only that, but he also is a powerful runner too with a good skillset to go with it. He can use the stiff arm very well (said this before, but it’s a pretty mean one too), use the spin move and can break tackles. I haven’t seen a good juke move from him, but he’s not a finesse runner, so that’s to be expected. All in all, I think he’s a good RB and for him to our #2 guy, not only speaks volumes about how good MJD really is but also to the strength of our run game. I understand this is a passing league, but the value of a good rushing attack will never be devalued in my eyes.

  • http://www.blackandteal.com/ LukeNSims

     @KeenanJ I don’t think our offensive line is good enough (or just built in a way) to facilitate an overly finesse based running game.  A lot of weight is put on those “shifty” runners.  But really, without an offensive line that can swing out wide, it’s difficult for a finesse runner to do much.  Deji Karim is a good example of how that didn’t work so well for the Jags.
    I wonder how many years Jennings has left in his legs and if at some point he becomes the primary carrier and MJD becomes the spell back.