Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online


August 23, 2010

Will the Bills rotate runners?

In NFL, Gailey favored a firm pecking order, but in college, he utilized committees

PITTSFORD — Eric Wood went over the rushing riches on the Buffalo Bills roster Sunday.

The emerging right guard noted that Buffalo has a former Pro Bowler in Marshawn Lynch and a dynamic first-round draft pick in C.J. Spiller.

“And possibly,” Wood said, “the best one of the three is Freddy (Jackson).”

Wood didn’t even have to mention Joique Bell, last year’s Division II player of the year, who has rushed for a league-leading 132 yards and two touchdowns in the first two preseason games.

Right now, Jackson and Lynch are both on the sidelines wearing weighted vests, providing plenty of practice time for Spiller and Bell. Jackson has a hand injury that could cost him to miss one or two regular season games, and Lynch has an ankle injury that is expected to be healed in time for the opener.

When all the backs are healthy, how will new coach Chan Gailey delegate duties in his running back committee?

History suggests he’ll pick the best back and run him hard.

ESPN.com fantasy football analyst Matthew Berry noted earlier this summer that in the five seasons since 1998 that Gailey has worked in the NFL, he’s never given multiple backs an equal share of carries.

Of course, in his two years as head coach in Dallas, Gailey had the NFL’s all-time leading rusher, Emmitt Smith, at his disposal.

But as Miami’s offensive coordinator in 2000 and 2001, Lamar Smith averaged 311 carries, while no other back rushed the ball even 60 times.

When he was in charge of Kansas City’s offense in 2008, Gailey gave Larry Johnson 193 carries, and Jamaal Charles rushed 67 times.

ESPN.com blogger Tim Graham expanded the analysis to include Gailey’s two prior stints as an offensive coordinator, with the Steelers (1996-97) and the Broncos (1988-89).

In Pittsburgh, Gailey relied heavily in Jerome Bettis. In Denver, Gailey split carries somewhat equally between Tony Dorsett and Sammy Winder in his first season, but then gave rookie Bobby Humphrey 294 carries the next season, while Winder had 110.

Thanks to the new college football pages at sports-reference.com, we can see how Gailey distributed the rushing load in his five seasons as head coach of Georgia Tech, and it paints a bit of a different picture.

Only twice — in 2003 and 2006 — did the leading rusher get twice as many carries as the No. 2 pick, and in both case, the secondary back touched the ball about 10 times per game.

Gailey has said that he wanted to use the first three preseason games to learn what his running backs do best, and then decide which role each one will play. With Jackson and Lynch going down early in the first contest, that plan has been foiled.

“When you lose those two guys, it kind of sets you back in the direction you want to go,” Gailey said Sunday.

Gailey’s desire to play two backs at one time on occasion — something that was shown early in training camp — is also now on the back burner.

“We’ll just work on our one-back stuff,” Gailey said last week. “And when those guys get back, we’ll start on the other stuff.”

Judging by Thursday’s preseason performance, Spiller might be so spectacular in the “one-back stuff” that the Bills can’t afford to take the ball out of his hands.

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