In December, Buffalo Bills head coach Chan Gailey made waves when he said running back C.J. Spiller couldn't carry the entire load despite putting up several great performances while Fred Jackson was on Injured Reserve. Despite some comments this week that would seem to fly in the face of his earlier statement, a closer look reveals that might not be the case.
Last week at the 2012 NFL Combine, Gailey was once again asked if Spiller could handle the running back duties full-time.
"He could be an every down back," said Gailey on Thursday. "I don't see any reason that he couldn't carry it 20 or 25 (times per game) if he needed to. But he’s a valuable, versatile player; he can play wideout."
In a Week 15 game against the Miami Dolphins, Spiller had 91 rushing yards and 76 receiving yards, two touchdowns, and 21 total touches despite the Bills losing. After that game, Gailey was asked why Tashard Choice got eight touches when Spiller was obviously having a good day.
"We had a plan of certain packages that we were using C.J. and we were using Tashard in," Gailey explained at the time. "We knew we were going to use C.J. a lot in the passing game. We knew that was going to be part of it. We're trying not to wear the guy completely out. He's not the biggest back in the world. I don't think he can go out there and carry it 25 or 30 times. I don't want to put him in that position right now to carry it 25 or 30 times. I think we've got to split the carries and let Tashard have some of those packages to take some of the hits off of C.J."
Those comments sparked a frenzy where fans and media asked the rhetorical question, "If he wears out so fast, why pick him No. 9 overall?" - and while his answer changed last week, I'm not sure if it changed enough to calm those questions.
Mentioning his versatility is the opposite of saying that Spiller is wanted - instead of needed - as a full-time runner. Gailey immediately began discussing the pair of Jackson and Spiller. For the record, Spiller has never carried it 20 times in a game, while Jackson has reached the number eight times under Gailey, maxing out at 29.
"We’re fortunate enough to have two very good backs, so I’m going to try to make sure we keep them fresh and wear them out at the same time – does that make sense? But you want them to be on the field doing something; running routes, creating threats for the defense but not each one of them taking a pounding and both of them carrying it a lot of times every game," Gailey said in Indy. "You want to create the diversity by this guy carries it one time and that guy carries it one time, he’s out for a pass and then he’s out for a pass. So that being said, am I saying they’re going to be in the game at the same time? I’m sure they will be. Now don’t hold me to what percentage but they will be."
Many of the duo's catches came out of the backfield, but since Gailey took over play-calling, Jackson has 392 carries and 70 receptions. The 5.6-to-1 ratio of rushes to receptions is twice as high as Spiller's, who has 181 rushes and 63 receptions for a 2.9-to-1 ratio.
This off-season, Spiller made his opinion known that he wants to be the starter in Buffalo. That's just fine with his coach.
"If every guy that I have on the team doesn’t want to be a starter then I’ve got the wrong guys," Gailey said. "I want everybody to want to be a starter but everybody’s not. There are 11 of them. You have to learn to handle that, whoever it is. You have to learn to handle that."