Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Nobody Carrying the Load in Underachieving Run Game

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Nobody Carrying the Load in Underachieving Run Game

Article excerpt

Byline: Gene Frenette

You can't blame Jaguars offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch for feeling as if he's been placed in handcuffs by the team's running game. It has no identity, no production to speak of, and no sure-fire solution in sight.

Right now, this offense is even more of a one-dimensional operation than 2013, though with a more promising quarterback to shoulder the burden. Still, Blake Bortles and virtually every quarterback not named Peyton Manning needs the lifeline a running attack can provide.

But here the Jaguars are in Week 6, hopeful of another breakthrough first win Sunday against the Tennessee Titans, and they're still stuck in first gear. Jacksonville finished 31st in the NFL in rushing last year (78.8 yards rushing per game) with a declining Maurice Jones-Drew carrying the load, and it's no better (67.0 yards) now that a running-back-by-committee has taken over.

"If we were getting 150 yards doing it [per game], I would be really excited about it," Fisch said. "Right now, we're getting 55 yards or 60 yards doing it, so we have to find a way, whether it be giving a few more carries to a certain guy."

It doesn't help matters that the Jaguars' offensive line had little continuity in training camp or preseason. It's just now settling in with the same five starters for a second consecutive week, but the running back situation is a puzzle with all the pieces scattered on the floor.

Toby Gerhart was brought over in free agency to be Jones-Drew's primary replacement, but he's scuffling along with a 2.6-yard average. Plus, he's hampered by a foot injury that will keep him out of the Titans game.

Denard Robinson, the ex-Michigan quarterback, is still adjusting to a new position and might be more of a change-up back than a No. 1 guy. Jordan Todman, who had a 109-yard rushing game at Buffalo last December in his first career start, appears more suitable as a third-down back and kick returner.

That leaves rookie Storm Johnson, a seventh-round draft pick who didn't get his first NFL carry until last week, as a potentially intriguing solution. He appears to have more natural cutting instincts, but the inexperience factor could make Fisch and head coach Gus Bradley hesitant about giving Johnson too much of a load this early.

"This is my first time getting into a game, getting my feet wet," said Johnson. "It can only improve from there, looking at film and seeing what I could have done to make my runs better. I can't wait to see myself improve."

It's just that nobody knows how quickly that process takes place. Bradley said Friday that he doubted whether any back would get 15-plus carries against Tennessee. "It might be split up a little bit just because of where we're at," he said.

Johnson had four carries for 27 yards in his debut last week against the Pittsburgh Steelers, including a 20-yard run on the biggest hole opened up all season. …

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