Is it Shonn Greene’s time?
In the 2009 NFL Draft, the New York Jets made headlines trading up to the number 5 pick in the first round to draft Mark Sanchez, quarterback out of USC. One day later, the Jets, again, traded up to snag running back Shonn Greene in the third round out of theUniversityofIowa. With all of the attention on newly hired head coach Rex Ryan, and newly drafted “franchise” quarterback Mark Sanchez, Shonn Greene quietly did his job as a rookie running back in his first regular season, averaging 5 yards a carry when Thomas Jones needed a breather. The Jets led the league in rushing during the regular season in 2009 behind the veteran and rookie running back combo, but Shonn Greene wasn’t finished. When playoff time came, Greene exploded against the Bengals and Chargers, rushing for over 127 yards in each game. When Thomas Jones wasn’t willing to take a pay cut that following offseason, the Jets released him, in part because of Greene’s playoff emergence.
With the release of Thomas Jones, the Jets needed to add a complimentary running back if they wanted to repeat their dominant rushing attack, and thus, they brought in legendary and future hall of famer, LaDainian Tomlinson. While Greene’s role increased with more touches in his sophomore season and showed flashes of being the Jets future starting running back, LT took the bulk of the carries, and the Jets again, finished atop the league in rushing at number four. With two seasons under his belt, and the Jets just one game away from a Super Bowl appearance two years in a row, expectations for Shonn Greene and the New York Jets were at an all time high heading into year three of the Rex Ryan, Mark Sanchez, and Shonn Greene era.
Unfortunately for Jets fans, the 2011 season was a complete disaster as they went 8-8, losing their last three games of the season and a chance at a playoff birth. While many reporters and fans point the finger at Mark Sanchez and his regression, the truth of the matter is that Mark’s numbers surprisingly went up in every major quarterback category. He needs to limit his turnovers and protect the ball better, but Sanchez is at his best when the ground and pound is clicking, setting up play action and keeping the opposing defense honest. Going from a top five rushing offense to twenty second in the league isn’t what anybody expected, and the Jets’ hopes of Shonn Greene turning into the feature back for years to come has to be in question.
Shonn Greene somehow topped the 1,000 yard rushing mark in 2011, but if you’re a Jets fan who watched all the games, you can’t be happy with his season performance. He finished 19th in the league in rushing yards per game at a mediocre at BEST 65.9 yds/game. While the Jets were rated number one in the league in redzone offense, Greene managed only six touchdowns on the season, half of them coming in the game against the Washington Redskins, and had zero receiving touchdowns on the year. It’s hard to imagine that in 15 games (I’m excluding the Redskins game where he had those three touchdowns), someone with Shonn Greene’s size and supposed ability to run people over, could only manage to reach the end zone three times. It’s unacceptable, and so is the fact that Greene only rushed for more than 100 yards in TWO games the entire season. It took him almost half the season to crack it for the first time, rushing for 112 yards against the San Diego Chargers in week seven. I remember being hopeful after that game, thinking this is where it will all turn around for him, but unfortunately I was wrong. It then took Greene six more games before exceeding a three digit rushing total when he ran for 129 yards against the Kansas City Chiefs in week fourteen. We all know Shonn Greene lacks a homerun hitters speed, agility, and quickness, which is evident when he averaged a run of 20 yards or more only once in every four games last season.
The bottom line is that Shonn Greene might turn out to be nothing better than a serviceable backup in the NFL if he doesn’t break out in 2012. He is inconsistent, disappearing for weeks at a time, lacks the ability to get passed the opposing defenses linebackers, and too often isn’t able to get yards after contact like he should with his size and build. The New York Jets running back resembles somebody running through mud at times, without showing the vision and power he did as a backup role player in his previous two seasons.
With Shonn Greene entering the fourth and final year of his rookie contract, you have to assume he is even more motivated than ever to put up the big numbers and consistent performances Jets fans and the Jets organization has been waiting for. With the addition of Tony Sporano as the new offensive coordinator, a guy who loves the ground and pound philosophy like Rex Ryan, Greene knows he will be touching the ball even more than he did last season. Tebow will also be running the wildcat, which will drive defenses crazy and take some of the focus off of Shonn to hopefully open up more running lanes for him.
The time for Greene to prove himself is now. The Jets brought in the right players and personnel to get back to being a top five rushing team, and Shonn Greene’s future in green and white is on the line. He can’t start another season sluggish, slow, and soft, or his job will diminish as the season goes on, handing over carries to the likes of Joe McKnight in the wildcat packages, and even rookie running back Terrance Ganaway, who the Jets selected in the sixth round out of Baylor, and who set school records in rushing.
With the 2012 NFL season quickly approaching, only time will tell if Shonn Greene’s days in green and white are limited. As Rex Ryan says, “it’s time to play like a JET.”