Position Battles: Running Backs

We’ve gotten a close look at who will be going to camp along the offensive line. You can check out last week’s post on the offensive tackles right here.

Whether they are someone in the spotlight, or just a guy who is a long shot for even the practice squad, I’m sure to take a look at each individual player. On a roster as young as this and with this much competition, you just never know who will start turning heads in OTAs, training camp and preseason games.

It’s no secret. The Jags running game last year was flat out embarrassing. Between the Maurice Jones-Drew holdout, to his season ending injury, to the stable of spare part running backs the Jaguars fielded last year, the Jaguars running game was just another thing that went wrong in 2012. Fortunately, it looks as if we’ve gotten some new pieces and I am looking very much forward to seeing exactly what the backfield will look like come September.

So just how did Jacksonville improve the position? It started with the signing of free agent Justin Forsett back in March. It only got better, when in April, Caldwell drafted one of the most explosive players from college football in Denard Robinson and it was decided that running back would give him (Robinson) the best opportunity to make a difference come game time.

Before we continue I have to note (even though it’s been noted plenty in the last week) that FB/RB/Special Teams Ace, Montell Owens was released last week in order to make room for center Dan Gerberry. This move came as a shock to most. It wasn’t necessarily shocking to me seeing as how the Jaguars want to get younger and faster, but it was a bit upsetting. Owens is a blue collar player who stepped up and did everything he could to help the team. It’s easy to do that…when you’re on a winning team. Most of the time Owens was not on a winning team, yet he always put it on the line, and he made two pro bowls as a special teamer on the way. Owens had a visit with Buffalo yesterday, and I wish him nothing but the best.

We continue our position battles series today, taking a look at the running backs:

  • Maurice Jones-Drew: After coming off of a record campaign in 2011, claiming the league’s rushing title, Jones-Drew faced a tumultous offseason in 2012 that included a hold out, but that’s neither here nor there. A foot injury claimed his season in week 6 and that was it.  I’m focused on Jones-Drew’s health this year. Not only does he have to be healthy, but he has to return to 2011 form. Jones-Drew has been the lone threat, the lone weapon for this team for years. One of the last of the workhorse backs, a healthy Jones-Drew returning to home run threat form would certainly be advantageous to young players in a new system, and it would definitely help take some of the load off of Gabbert or Henne’s shoulders.

    Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

  • Justin Forsett: Forsett was the second free agent signed after free agency opened on March 12. Forsett played in Houston last year backing up Arian Foster, but before coming to Houston he played in Seattle. Forsett has always been a solid complimentary back, and he has shown that he would be able to handle the job if the primary back goes down. One of the things that was so terrible about last year (one of the many, many things) was seeing just how much depth this team DID NOT HAVE. Forsett provides quality depth at the position.
  • Denard Robinson: Selected in the 5th round of the 2013 draft, the Jaguars selected QB/WR/RB/KR Denard Robinson. Everyone who watches college football, and especially if you’re a Michigan fan, can see just how special of an athlete Robinson is. Hands down one of the biggest playmakers in college football, Robinson did have to make a position switch upon arriving to the pros. Wanting to contribute, and not being selfish whatsoever and understanding he’d be a better fit somewhere else on the football field, Robinson made the switch to wide receiver. Bradley will play him at running back which I feel will give him the best opportunity to benefit the team. I would not be one bit surprised though to see him get involved in the passing and return game.
  • Jonathan Grimes: A late season addition in 2012 due to the walking wounded at what seemed like practically every position, Grimes came into the league as an UDFA with Houston last year. He’s spent time with Houston, the New York Jets, Houston again, and finally Jacksonville. Grimes is young, which is probably the only reason he’s stuck around this long, and he will be fighting for a back up spot.
  • Jordan Todman: Todman was a player I was interested in as a late round flier in the 2011 draft. He was drafted by the San Diego Chargers in the 6th round. Todman hails from UCONN, having been 2010 Big East Offensive Player of the Year before forgoing his senior season and entering the 2011 draft. Since then he has bounced around the league. The Jaguars found him on Minnesota’s practice squad and signed him in late November of last year. Once again, Todman is a young player who accomplished a lot a UCONN, but will be hard pressed to find a spot on the roster.
  • De’Leon Eskridge: Eskridge came to the rookie mini-camp as a workout guy and was signed shortly after. At San Jose State last year, Eskridge had 207 carries for 1,025 yards and 11 TDs. He was selected All WAC Second Team by the coaches, but due to a bad 40 time, Eskridge fell out of favor and went undrafted. Lucky for Eskridge, he came to the right camp. He worked hard and obviously showed enough to get a contract. He’ll be competing with for a backup spot, and would be a good candidate for the practice squad.
  • Lonnie Pryor, FB: Pryor is one of those UDFAs that has a real shot. With Greg Jones going to Houston and with the recent release of Montell Owens, Pryor is a prime candidate to step up and be the lead blocker for Maurice Jones-Drew. He was a part of a FSU rushing offense that scored 40, yes 40 rushing touchdowns in 2012 and averaged 205 rushing yards a game. Pryor is an outstanding blocker, and he can also be a factor running the ball, tallying 47 carries for 376 yards and 8 scores last season.
  • Will Ta’ufo’ou, FB: Ta’ufo’ou came into the league as an UDFA in 2009 with the Chicago Bears. He was with the Bears until 2011. Afterwards, he was signed to Cleveland’s practice squad, but was released in November of 2011. He was signed by the Jaguars in July of last year. Since then he’s been on both the Jaguars’ practice squad and active roster. He appeared in six games last year for Jacksonville. He will be Pryor’s main competition for the fullback position, but Pryor still has much more upside.

With so much talk about how Gabbert, Henne, Marcedes Lewis, Cecil Shorts and Justin Blackmon will respond to Jedd Fisch’s offense, you really don’t hear very much about what kind of role the running back will play. We have a superstar in Maurice Jones-Drew, who if healthy, should be one of the top rushing performers in the league again. Forsett and Robinson should be the back ups with Robinson getting involved in more ways than one (ie. wide receiver, kick returner, etc.). Pryor should be the starting fullback barring a terrible camp.

I highly doubt we’ll carry more than 4 backs (3RBs,1FB), so Todman and Grimes would have to be absolutely lights out in order to earn a roster spot. You just never know on a roster like this though. Either one could flash enough at camp to convince Bradley to go heavier at RB than originally intended which of course if the great thing about competition.

-David R. Johns

Topics: Denard Robinson, Jacksonville Jaguars, Justin Forsett, Maurice Jones-drew, Montell Owens

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  • Sean Muldoon

    Have to say things look pretty grim for Ta’ufo’ou. Bradley was already positive about Pryor after the first mini-camp. I’d say Todman and Grimes will be lucky to make it to training camp too in my opinion. Caldwell has already bumped several running backs off the roster to sign other FA’s at different positions. I can see us putting Eskridge on the practice squad unless he just blows Forsett away in camp. The great thing is though all this might be wrong if Bradley is as serious about competition as his mentor.

    EDIT: And now Bell is in for a workout too. If he catches on you have to figure Grimes or Todman is done.

    • David

      You’re absolutely correct, Sean. That is what’s do great. I believe Bradley when he says every spot is up for grabs. No more holding on to lost projects (ie. Jarrett Dilliard) just because they’re draft picks. If Eskridge outperforms Forsett (highly unlikely, just hypothetically speaking) I’d be that Eskridge would make the team. Now am I saying that’s going to happen? NO. I’m just saying I believe what Bradley says. If Bell signs, Grimes or Todman are out. This roster is going to churn, and it’s very exciting. Have to keep a healthy influx of players to keep the competition continuous.