Ivory: "I'm not sure, man."
Welcome to the club.
There are many questions surrounding the Jets' running back position, which consists of five experienced backs -- Ivory, Bilal Powell, Zac Stacy, Daryl Richardson and Stevan Ridley. With a five-deep depth chart (if Ridley's surgically repaired knee is cleared for training camp) and no true star among them, it will be fascinating to see how their roles are defined. This much we know: Ivory will go into camp as the first-team back, according to coach Todd Bowles.
Beyond that, it's anybody's guess. Will Ivory split time with another back, as he did last season with Chris Johnson? Who will be the third-down back? What about short-yardage and goal line?
Chances are it will be a committee approach, but the current size of the committee might be larger than what we see on Capitol Hill. Bowles almost certainly won't keep five backs, so someone has to go, maybe two. (For the purposes of this conversation, we're not including fullback Tommy Bohanon.) Thing is, it would be very hard to dress four backs on game day, especially when only one (Powell) figures to have a role on special teams.
You don't see too many four-headed monsters in the NFL. In 2014, only one team had four backs who played at least 160 snaps -- the Tennessee Titans, who had Bishop Sankey, Leon Washington, Dexter McCluster and Shonn Greene. Obviously, it didn't go well; they finished 2-14.
Seventeen teams, including the Jets, had three backs in that category. The Jets split it up this way: Ivory 440, Johnson 398 and Powell 237. Three is manageable; four, not so much.
What makes the current group so interesting is that it includes three backs that once led a team in rushing -- Ivory (New Orleans Saints, 2010; Jets, 2013-2014), Ridley (New England Patriots, 2012), and Stacy (St. Louis Rams, 2013). In other words, they're used to getting the rock, and now they'll be forced to share ... a lot.
The other distinguishing characteristic about these guys is they don't have any distinguishing characteristics. Basically, they're tough, between-the-tackles runners, not breakaway threats. This will make it harder for the coaches to define their roles. In the end, decisions could be based on the nonscientific, hot-hand approach. Before we get into projections, let's compare:
Now for our fearless projections. It's important to note that new offensive coordinator Chan Gailey, based on his most recent track record, figures to rely heavily on a one-back formation. That could change, of course, in short-yardage situations.
Lead back: By any metric, Ivory is the best first- and second-down back on the roster, but that doesn't mean he'll be the workhorse. He's never had 200 carries in a season and he has a history of nagging injuries, and the new coaching staff will be mindful of that. Another question: How will he adapt to Gailey's spread system? Ivory isn't a play-in-space back because he's not a threat to catch the ball. When that was mentioned to him, he noted he played in a similar system with Sean Payton the Saints. That's true, but they also sent him packing, so there's that. If healthy, Ridley could be a nice sidekick to Ivory because, before last season, he demonstrated a little giddy-up. Stacy is a smaller version of Ivory, with less speed.
Third-down back: Powell is the clear favorite because he's the most experienced pass-catching back on the roster -- and that's not saying a lot because the others haven't done much at all. Powell won't scare defenses when the ball is in his hands, but he can pick up a blitz and block -- underrated skills for a third-down back. Bowles said he couldn't handicap this role until he sees them in pads, gauging their blocking ability. It will be an upset if Powell doesn't snag this job.
Short-yardage/goal line: Ivory and Stacy make sense because they're physical runners, but Ivory is attractive because he's a big body (6-foot, 222 pounds). He also has a proven track record, having converted 65 percent of his third-down runs over the last two seasons -- the fifth-best success rate in the league.
This should make for an intense competition in training camp. There will be no shortage of motivation because Ivory, Powell and Ridley are in contract years.
"We have great depth," Ivory said. "That's one thing we definitely have, it's depth."