- Matt Ciabattari
If a Running Back Falls in Philadelphia: Updated Jets Running Back Situation
If a tree falls in a forest does it make a sound?
Something that comes to mind when thinking about all that changed with Khiry Robinson’s place with the Jets in 2016.
Khiry Robinson started and received the bulk of the carries in the first half during the Jets Final preseason game in Philadelphia with the season opener a week and half away. With roster cuts scheduled to occur less than 48 hours later by the 4 o’clock deadline Saturday and the final 53-man roster to be set by Tuesday, much had already been decided.
The Jets primary back would be the veteran free agent signing Matt Forte splitting a majority of the carries with Bilal Powell after coming over from the Chicago Bears on a one-year deal. Powell, who took a major step forward in 2015, both on the ground and catching passes out of the backfield, re-signed a 3-year, $11.25 Million deal in March. The deal was the ultimate organizational vote of confidence and Khiry Robinson appeared to be locked in as the team’s short yardage/goal-line back, third on the depth chart.
Then it all changed, somehow as Robinson re-injured himself during the Eagles, but no one in the media appeared to see it, so did it actually happen?
All kidding aside, unfortunately for Robinson in a game that didn’t matter for his position with the team, he somehow suffered the same freak injury that cost him the primary Running Back role in New Orleans last November against the Giants. After working his way back from the snapped tibia injury, Robinson seemed primed for a significant role for this offense, especially in the red zone.
First thought for GM, Mike Maccagnan and the Jets staff was what next? As a team, the Jets had so few injuries during the preseason that injury bug was bound to strike, but it couldn’t have happened to a guy less deserving, so how were the Jets going to address the need for a short yardage/goal-line back.
Roster cuts came and went Saturday by the 4 o’clock deadline the Jets appeared primed to head into the season with Forte as the primary back, Powell as the backup, with Khiry Robinson put on the IR as his season was done and Dominique Williams who cleared waivers before joining the the practice squad. Fullback-wise it was Julian Howsare, and not 3-year starter Tommy Bohanon, who was a converted linebacker who got the nod. All bases appeared to be covered except that elusive short yardage/goal line back.
Then the craziest 48 hours in football ensued where final rosters cuts were made and players are clearing waivers, switching teams and cities, a musical chairs of sorts, for the NFL.
At the end of it, the Jets and Maccagnan’s pursuit led them to Troymaine Pope, an undrafted Rookie out of Jacksonville State (An FCS School), who was the leading rusher for the Seattle Seahawks this preseason was acquired via Waivers on Sunday. What would that mean for the Jets running game, which appeared to have some balance with an aging, but still dynamic Forte leading the way, Powell taking a step forward in 2015 prior to the acquisition of Pope to replace Robinson.
The triumvirate of Head Coach Todd Bowles, Offensive Coordinator Chan Gailey and Maccagnan must have had enough confidence in Forte and Powell’s ability that much of the short yardage opportunities that would have went to Robinson, will be given to Forte and Powell now.
But don’t count out Pope, who finished 3rd in the voting for Mr. Football in Alabama his Senior year at Aniston High School, behind the Jaguars Starting Running Back T.J. Yeldon (Alabama Alum) and Jameis Winston (FSU Alum) Tampa Bay’s starting Quarterback. So this Pope, though doubted often because of his size, listed at 5’9” 200, has the pedigree to be quite the find for the Jets who will contribute initially on special teams.
Will this result in the same running game that finished 10th in the league in yards per game and improve upon their 11 total rushing touchdowns, which was middle of the league a season ago. It remains to be seen as the offensive line has a lot of unknowns with an unproven Right Tackle in Ben Ijalana, but there’s no reason to doubt that Forte and Powell if they can stay healthy have the potential to be even more dangerous with more balance at the position in 2016.