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Free Agent Preview: Running Backs
Free Agent Preview: Running Backs
Tuesday, February 28, 2006
By Nick Wagoner
So much of what the Rams plan to do in the offseason at running back centers on the decision of Marshall Faulk on whether to return for another season or not.
As of now, all signs point to Faulkís return and coach Scott Linehan has made it clear that Faulk is more than welcome to return. Should Faulk make that choice, Linehan has also said that he would like Faulk to have an expanded role compared to a somewhat limited role a season ago.
Even in the event of Faulkís return, Steven Jackson will remain the starter and get the bulk of the work. Linehan wants to install a more balanced offense that will get Jackson more touches on a consistent basis. Free agency is expected to begin Friday, but there are still some details to be worked out in the coming days as far as the collective bargaining agreement.
Jackson had a solid, if unspectacular season in 2005, his first season as the starter. He struggled at times with squaring his shoulders to the line, running north and south and with blitz pickups. All of that was to be expected and Jackson should return energized by a potential commitment to a more balanced offense.
With the expected return of Faulk and the certain return of Jackson, practice squadder Derrick Knight and fullbacks Chris Massey and Madison Hedgecock, the Rams have a little work to do at this spot.
Arlen Harris is scheduled for restricted free agency and is likely to return. More uncertain, though is the potential return of unrestricted free agent Aveion Cason. Cason got limited opportunities a season ago, but he played well when he finally got a chance against Dallas in the season finale.
Cason has the type of speed to be a nice change of pace back for Jackson and can also be a solid kick returner. The Rams would like to find a back that can do both, but itís also time to find someone who can step in for Faulk when he retires. Maybe that player is better found in the draft, but there are some decent options available in this free agent market.
Dominic Rhodes and Jesse Chatman fit in the mold of Cason as potential change of pace backs with the ability to return kicks. Anthony Thomas has been a 1,000-yard rusher in the NFL and can carry the load if needed, but he hasnít been asked to carry much in recent years and might be too similar in style to Jackson.
Two more names that might pique the interest of Linehan are Moe Williams and Michael Bennett. Williams and Bennett played for Linehan in Minnesota and possess different running styles. Bennett would be an excellent change of pace back because of his home run speed while Williams is more of a grinder who is a good option in goal line and short yardage situations.
Of course, Bennett is probably looking to land a more stable situation in which he can be the featured back and Williams again falls into the same mold as Jackson where it might not make sense to have him also.
At fullback, Hedgecock showed potential to be a good fullback in the offense and needs some work in some of the mental aspects of the game. But he did show strides as the season went on and even proved to be a solid option in the passing game. Massey re-signed a few weeks ago, but he is mainly a long snapper and an emergency fullback.
There are some good options as far as veteran fullbacks on the market, including Fred Beasley, Williams Henderson, Verron Haynes and Tony Richardson. Itís a strong possibility the Rams will bring in someone to compete with Hedgecock, but it wonít likely be any of the high priced fullbacks available.
Running Backs Under Contract (5): Steven Jackson, Marshall Faulk, Madison Hedgecock, Derrick Knight, Chris Massey.
Needs: At least one tailback, preferably one who can return kicks. Probably two to have one that can compete for a spot in training camp. Perhaps another fullback to compete with Hedgecock.
Possibilities: Aveion Cason, Arlen Harris (Restricted), Jesse Chatman, Anthony Thomas, Moe Williams, Dominic Rhodes, Michael Bennett.
Top 5 Available
1. Shaun Alexander
2. Edgerrin James
3. Jamal Lewis
4. Ahman Green
5. Michael Bennett
Re: Free Agent Preview: Running Backs
I'd actually like to see us get a nice young player as our third RB, but I don't see it happening as we have too many needs elsewhere.