Greene ready to carry load for Jets

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Shonn Greene used to have the kind of running style that brought you a little closer to the edge of your seat. It was literally a bone-crunching style, especially when he was a rookie and the New York Jets were playing the Indianapolis Colts in the playoffs.

He was fighting for every inch when he took a helmet to the ribs and tore cartilage. It's an unusual injury for a running back, who has to crouch at times to protect the ball, and it wasn't Greene's last.

"It taught me a little bit to protect my body a little more," said Greene, now going into his third season. "But I don't want to have to hamper my running style because then I'm not being who I am, you know?"

As the featured back for the Jets this season, protection will be key. Greene will need to free himself from fumbles and injuries to take hold of his new role.

"I think he's ready," coach Rex Ryan said. "I don't think there's any doubt he's ready, and we want to keep (LaDainian Tomlinson) for that third-down responsibility and then hammer teams with Shonn."

Last year, Greene had 766 yards on 185 carries after a rookie season earning 540 yards on 108 carries. The bad news is that he fumbled the ball three times each year.

"When you first get into this league you're going to make mistakes," Greene said. "That's just part of the game. You've got to learn, but the thing is, learning as quick as you can. … You can't keep doing it because you're not going to be a pro very long around here if you keep doing it."

Greene had a shot at being the starter last season. The Jets sent Thomas Jones to Kansas City in part because Greene had been promising as a rookie and Jones still wanted to be the main running back. But the Jets also caught Tomlinson, unhappy in San Diego and ready to prove himself again.

"They take the time out to do all the little things like watching film, working on their bodies," Greene said. "And then off the field they're just great people."

Greene learned a lot in the first two years as a pro, and admits that the transition was a challenge, particularly at his spot.

"In college it's not so much they're going for the ball," Greene said. "You get to this league, turnovers are a big thing. Turnovers win games, so that's the main thing in this league. And when you're a rookie you don't really understand that, so you're just running how you did in college and a guy will hold you up and the next guys coming and he's going for the ball. And so young guys coming in don't realize that, and I went through that."

Ryan said that Greene -- who had 16 receptions last year for 120 yards after none in his rookie season -- has gotten better with his hands and should be more versatile.

"To start with, I'm thinking the plan is that you're going to get a heavy dose of Shonn Greene," Ryan said, "and he's catching the ball much better than he has. Which isn't saying much. When he first got here, remember that? It was like, somebody make two guys run to the same spot, play the deflection. But he's catching the ball well now."

Ryan also pointed to RB Joe McKnight as having come "a million miles" from his unforgettably queasy rookie minicamp last season, and said he is looking forward to seeing what fourth-round draft pick Bilal Powell can do.

But this season it starts with Greene.

"It's a physical sport and a lot of teams are not just staying with the one -back system," Greene said. "I think in our backfield we have a lot of talent and a lot of us can be successful."

Jane McManus is a columnist for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow her on Twitter.

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