Ed. Note: Bumped from the FanPosts. - BG
The Bills have a very good problem at the running back position: two starting-caliber backs who are both hungry for full-time carries. Though I would argue it would have been a better problem to have before quarterbacks started throwing for 5,000 yards, the running back is still a pivotal position and one that requires depth.
And although the NFL has been dominated by passing sports leagues have a tendency to fall into 'copycat' mode in trying to mold their teams into the likeness of the most recent champions, a team with a strong run game will continue to win games as long as football is football.
Though, it's fair to say that Chan Gailey isn't spending his offseason dreaming up too many power running formations with two-receiver sets, a tight-end, and a fullback. The spread is Chan's butter, and in that philosophy there's always the expectation that the running backs can read blitzes, run routes, and catch.Both CJ Spiller and Fred Jackson can catch. They might form the best all-purpose tandem in the NFL right now. And there's the first problem, there's a lot of overlap in their play. They're similar runners with similar body size and a similar skill set.
Fred Jackson has been one of the NFL's great surprises in recent years in that he comes from a modest football pedigree (I'll leave it to the Sunday announcers to remind us all in every game the name of the college he attended in Iowa), and he possesses, how to say . . . far less than elite speed. But he makes up for the apparent shortcomings with an instinctual knack on where to run, and an incredible courage that adds what looks like 20 pounds to the level of difficulty in tackling him. When Ryan Fitzpatrick calls him his favorite teammate ever, you have to believe it's because of Fred's transparent work ethic and his heart come game day.
CJ Spiller, on the other hand, is a running back right off the conveyor belt from the all-pro running back factory. He's a blazer with good hands who appears to finally be comfortable in the NFL. You could see flashes and glimpses in many games last season of everything that Spiller could be and do. There's less pressure on Spiller now and less pressure on the team to use him, arguably, now that the 2010 draft is a hazy memory lost in the current feel-good mood about the team.
Fred's a better blocker, though there's indication Spiller's improving. Spiller's faster, yet Freddie's savvier. Spiller's much younger (in running back years, he's still a baby) and he's faster, yet on third and short, the team's still more comfortable with Freddie (at least they have been until now). Aside from that, there both dangerous, dynamic running backs who can hurt defenses in multiple ways.
So how does Gailey use them both?
The offseason pollyanna-ish answer from the team is a little like a grandma's assessment of her two grandchildren: the Bills love them both equally and plan to use them as equally as possible. I'll believe it when I see it, much like (for Buffalo fans) Lindy Ruff's annual promise to use Ryan Miller less this coming season. I just don't see how it's possible for the Bills to keep them both happy with their touches if their both healthy.
We saw in 2011 Spiller lining up as an outside wide-out and running go-routes. 2012 will tell us if there's a plan to continue the trend, or if Spiller was just compensating for the injures at receiver and the team's overall lack of depth at the position.
Running backs always talk about rhythm, and the need for regular touches so that they can stay in that rhythm all game long. That could just be the confident party line for all athletes to pledge to, so that they can stay 'selfish' for the sake of the 'team,' but I think it's a real thing. I don't think running back-by-committee works so well. Maybe I'm wrong, and I'm sure you'd let me know.
The first example I can think of is how Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw have been used over the years by the New York Giants. But in that example, Jacobs is in the Jerome Bettis-mold of a linebacker-sized body running up the gut, and Bradshaw is the skat-back (do they really call them skat-backs?).
You have to wonder whether Marshawn Lynch would be a better compliment to either Jackson or Spiller. But, then again, perhaps the reason Lynch has shined in Seattle is because he's the only feature running back and can count on a steadier diet of run plays.