Bills’ backup RBs line up behind Lynch

By Anthony Bialy  |   Sunday, July 15, 2007  |  Comments( 38 )

Buffalo Bills
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Marshawn Lynch couldn't have gotten a better job out of college even if his uncle owned a football team. Lynch's vigorous, numerous talents will allow him every chance to get every carry he can handle this year. In doing so, he presumably fills a glaring need for the Buffalo Bills from the moment training camp commences. So, they've got their starting rusher slotted in, which means that the other backs are in a position where they're fighting to not play much as opposed to not playing at all. Who is the best option to back up Lynch?

The two veterans of previous Bills teams face competition that could make their respective holds on the jobs tenuous. The best news for the most prominent backup, Anthony Thomas, is that he is good enough to still conceivably start in the league. Now, were that to actually happen, Thomas would be unlikely to return to semi-elite status and lead his team to a playoff appearance. But the fact is that he still has talent in the tank.

It may surprise some to realize that, in 2006, Thomas actually racked up 378 yards in his backup role, including two starts in place of an injured Willis McGahee. Although he only managed 3.5 yards a carry, that middling stat had much to do with deficient blocking and an offense that was learning to play without training wheels. Also, the alleged superstar who started in front of him only got 3.8 per rush, so Thomas did respectably by comparison. He would be a good contrast to the more elusive Lynch, and his experience totals more than the other entrants combined.

On the other hand, if Shaud Williams has been renting and not buying in Buffalo, he should continue to do so. Getting two rushing attempts over five active games last season doesn't bode well for his future. Williams did carry 45 times in 2005 when he was bafflingly and maddeningly subbed in for McGahee on many third downs, but he went from being used sparingly to virtually not being used at all; to be fair, he occasionally contributes on special teams, although he doesn't particularly stand out. His superlative collegiate career at Alabama hasn't converted to NFL glory, and, with new sharks in the tank, he's going to need one exceptional training camp to remain a Bill.

What the new roster additions lack in experience, they compensate for with versatility. Free-agent pickup Josh Scobey has only touched the ball on offense in one of his previous five seasons, as his 29 carries for Arizona in 2004 are all of his attempts. But he compensates for his lack of playing time at running back with stellar work on special teams.

Scobey can return kickoffs, a valuable skill which would also mean that Terrence McGee could focus on his cornerbacking responsibilities. Also, Scobey defends them, so he could be a crucial special teams double threat for a franchise that prides itself on stellar play in the game's third phase.

The other new Bill, draftee Dwayne Wright, is built like an anvil, and he's almost as fast as one. He's not a prototypical track star, but the fourth-round pick from Fresno State was a solid blocker in college, which leads to the good news for Wright: He could be used as a hybrid running/blocking back for a team not planning to use a roster spot on a true fullback. He'll have to beat out some backup tight ends for the slash title, but his stuffing skills are a useful asset.

Throw in long shot Fred Jackson, and there are five guys competing for roster spots, only one of whom will touch the ball with even seldom regularity. The team also has to be ready for the disastrous scenario where Lynch flops or gets hurt; it's not a pleasant thought, but in that case Thomas would be the best choice. Wright is a power-oriented guy not identical but similar to Thomas, so history versus versatility may play out in that competition, while Scobey competes in the kicking game, which makes his resume attractive.

The battle to be a backup is stocked with interesting choices and permutations, and with only the starter set, a most interesting positional battle just for a reserve role begins soon.

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