Leon Whoshington?

By Jeff Lykes  |   Thursday, October 26, 2006  |  Comments( 0 )

New York Jets
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After their sloppily impressive victory over the lowly Detroit Lions, Jets fans had one thing on their mind: Who the heck is Leon Washington and why isn't he our starter?

All I can say to that is, "Give it time; let it breathe; Eric Mangini seems to know what he's doing. I realize that Kevan Barlow makes Ron Dayne seem like Walter Payton in terms of consistency, but having a bruiser like Barlow eat up 10 to 15 carries a game is the smart move here. You never want to burn out an undersized back, especially in that back's rookie year."

So the Jets are 4-3 and thanks to a nifty, cut-the-corner touchdown run by the ultra-speedy Washington late in the fourth quarter, they avoided an embarrassing collapse to Jon "Garbage Time" Kitna and his band of toothless felines. (Yup, I'm bitter; Kitna's 269-yard, three-TD day was enough to kill me in one of my fantasy leagues. Who starts Kitna at the Meadowlands?)

Other than Barlow's steady three-yard average on about 12 carries per game, the Jets' running back situation has been like a bad episode of MTV's "Next." Derrick Blaylock, Cedric Houston, Barlow, Washington, BJ Askew? An astonishing 11 players have registered carries for the New York Jets (and who knows what'll happen if Curtis Martin ever comes back). Who's my favorite member of the no-name running game? It has to be Brad Smith and his obligatory one to two handoffs per game; the rookie QB/RB/WR from Missouri has struggled to get in the mix full-time, but he's the kind of "slash" player that fans love.

However, after Washington's two-touchdown performance on Sunday, it seems that Gang Green may have found their guy. And even though it was against the horrendous Lions, 129 yards on just 20 carries is a pretty nice day. In other words, Jets fans have good reason to be excited.

I'm sure the fanatical Jets fans already know about Leon Washington's pre-draft, collegiate history, but for the casual sports guy, let me fill you in...

Washington was selected in the fourth round (116th overall) out of Florida State. His 2005 senior year was not stellar by any means. Missing two games, Washington finished with 430 yards on 97 carries and 267 yards on 25 receptions; he scored just four TDs and never scampered for 100 yards in a single game. However, that doesn't tell the whole story.

If you take a look at his junior season, it appears the Jets might have found themselves a hidden gem. In 2004, while not factoring in the passing game, Washington carried the ball 138 times for 951 yards (that's an amazing 6.9 yards per carry average, people). He also scored eight TDs and had four 100-yard days. On Jan. 1 in the Gator Bowl, Washington torched West Virginia for 195 yards on just 12 carries. Enough stats for you?

Bottom line, there were two huge questions facing the New York Jets before this NFL season and they've answered them both... Who's your quarterback and who's your running back? Well, Chad Pennington shut up everyone in Week 1, and the running-game-by-committee strategy has done just enough to get New York above .500. But it seems Leon Washington wants the job all to himself, and he might be well on his way.

In the end, throw out all the numbers; the best thing that I took away from Washington after his breakout day last Sunday was his off-the-field comments. On the day he scored his first NFL touchdowns, the rookie went out of his way to emphasize the outstanding job his offensive line and the coaching staff did. That's called humility, and it's a rare trait in this league (especially among young players).

This weekend, the Jets travel to Cleveland this weekend as underdogs and they have a good chance of leaving at 5-3 heading toward their bye. The Browns have one of the worst run defenses in the league (ranked 29th), meaning New York's running backs should account for a field day. Specifically, I think they'll find success mixing Barlow and Washington on an assortment of downs and distances.

Cleveland is hurting on that side of the ball, and the best recipe against a faltering defense is balance and versatility. It might not be pretty, it rarely has been with the Jets, but Pennington and the 'D' should make just enough plays to keep this game close.

Original New York Jets commentary, courtesy of RealFootball365.com
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