It's hard out there for a running back. NFL teams aren't prioritizing the position the way they used to. Accomplished veterans like Chris Johnson and Steven Jackson sit on the sidelines as teams head to camp with stables of young, cheap, unproven guys they figure can do the job just as well. You get hurt and disappear for a year, you can get forgotten in a hurry.
"That's the way the league has gone, but it's starting to look up for us," BenJarvus Green-Ellis said by phone Wednesday. "Everybody says they want to be a passing team, but then you look at a team like Seattle and they feed Marshawn and they win. Passing's for show. After Thanksgiving, when it really matters, when teams want to get to the Super Bowl, they remember what's important."
This is what gives hope to someone like Green-Ellis, who rushed for over 1,000 yards in 2010 with the Patriots and in 2012 with the Bengals but missed all of last year after a severe tear of his oblique muscle during a preseason game. Green-Ellis is 30 now, which is a bad number for a running back. But he wants back in, and he's hoping some team decides his pounding, between-the-tackles style is worth adding to its backfield.
"Oh, I'm ready," he said. "I've been training. I call them my ‘Green-Ellis two-a-days.' I'm boxing, running hills, doing all kinds of football drills. For five weeks now, twice a day, working out like crazy. The Green-Ellis two-a-days."
Green-Ellis recently took his training to the Dominican Republic, both to clear his head and to add some challenges. He said working out in the heat and humidity of a jungle climate there wasn't easy, and the mosquitoes were brutal. But he's back home in Florida now, and he got clearance Monday from Dr. Bryan Kelly, the hip specialist who performed surgery last October to re-attach his oblique muscle to the bone, and that his agent has been in touch with teams. He knows it's not a sure thing that he gets into anyone's camp anytime soon, but he still feels he can help someone.
"I'm optimistic I'll get that call," Green-Ellis said. "Obviously, each team that's in the market is in the market for a certain type of back. But I know somebody out there has a need for what I can do. More than anything, I'm excited to get back out there and hit somebody."
Green-Ellis lists at 5-foot-11, 220 pounds, so he's a bruising back who'd likely fit as an early-down grinder or goal-line type in a multiple-back system that already has its share of speed. But he also believes he's faster now than he was in 2013, when he was battling turf toe and his yards-per-carry average dipped to a career-low 3.4.
"Nobody wants to be injured, but one positive is that it gives you time to heal up from your other bumps and bruises," he said. "I feel like a rookie now, man. I feel fresh, rejuvenated and actually faster than I was this time last year."
Will he get his chance to return? Or will he fade into memory the way so many NFL backs do before they think they're done? Depends whether there's a team out there looking for a veteran back who can do some banging for them. It only takes one call, as they say.
"The phone's been ringing," Green-Ellis said. "It's just a matter of finding that right team."