Here’s what Giants running backs coach Craig Johnson likes to see from his players:
“You want to be productive, you want to be trustworthy and consistent so I can put you in there and know what you’re going to do, and you have to be available,” he said Tuesday. “For some of the guys I’ve talked about that have had those great seasons, they’ve been able to carry the load and come back the next week.”
The guys he talked about put together some of the greatest seasons any running back has ever had. Johnson was the running backs coach for the Titans when Chris Johnson rushed for 2,006 yards in 2009, and he was with the Vikings when Adrian Peterson hit 2,097 in 2012.
“And Eddie George had some good carries, too,” he said of another protégé from his time in Tennessee. “Those are the three guys I compare my guys to all the time.”
So how do these current Giants backs stack up?
“I know what that looks like,” Johnson said of a 2,000-yard rusher. “We haven’t had that.”
Last year, the Giants managed only 1,609 rushing yards for the season and spent most of the year shuffling backs in and out of the lineup trying to find someone — anyone — who could take the job and keep it. It wasn’t an ideal situation for the players, who complained about a lack of rhythm, and it certainly wasn’t the way the coaching staff designed the offense.
This season, all four of those players who were part of the search are back — Rashad Jennings, Shane Vereen, Andre Williams and Orleans Darkwa — and the Giants have added fifth-round pick Paul Perkins, so the field is actually larger than it was in 2015. The hope, though, is that they can settle into a better rotation. A more defined rotation.
“I don’t think anybody wants to play too many backs,” Johnson said. “Those guys have said it and I said it, too: We want to see if we can find the rhythm, hopefully with a pair and maybe a third guy. Obviously, if it’s like we finished the year, like Rashad finished, that would take care of a lot of problems. At the end of the year he was playing as well as any back in football.”
Jennings took over the job in the final four weeks of the season, rushing for 432 yards in that span. If he can keep that pace for an entire season — a big if for a 31-year-old coming off his first 16-game season without any major injuries and no career 1,000-yard seasons — that would extrapolate to 1,728 yards.
Short of the 2,000 Johnson saw in the past, yes, but what would be the second-most rushing yards in franchise history (Tiki Barber’s 1,860 in 2005 is the team record).
Not that anyone really expects that kind of production from Jennings alone. Ben McAdoo was asked about relying on one running back and scoffed at the idea.
“You have one guy, you’re in trouble,” McAdoo said. “We need a handful.”
Nor is Jennings himself interested in such status.
“It’s not important for me to be the focal point,” he said. “What is important for us is to win, last time I checked. However I can contribute to getting a ‘W’ on the board, that’s what I’m here for.”
The Giants’ offense isn’t designed for a 2,000-yard rusher. It may not even be designed for 2,000 rushing yards as a team. With Eli Manning and Odell Beckham Jr., the task for the running game is far different from those teams Johnson coached in the past.
“We want to be able to run, block and catch,” Johnson said. “That’s the role that we play in this offense. Eli and the passing game have done a lot, but we have to make sure we take the pressure off of them and be consistent. Then one plays off the other, and that’s how you have a balanced offense . . . We would like to be all-around good backs.”
If they are good, then great things will happen.