Mid-preseason is upon us and the team as a whole has been up and down. I was going to write a roundup of how everyone is doing after two preseason games in, but thats been covered multiple times over. So, I'm going to stick to what I find to be the most exciting position battle this preseason. No, it's not the 3rd receiver battle. It could have been but that race seemed to drop off during the second game. Ogletree has been mostly solid, but unflashy and Harris after an amazing showing in the Broncos game frustratingly disappeared from the Chargers game. That might have been by design from JG, and for his sake, I hope so. The the running back duel over the past two games is what I find to be the most exciting.
So far the running backs have had some of the most stellar performances of the preseason. Felix Jones has been tearing up the field which should come as no surprise to anyone. He's proven that the mire of last year has no bearing on him taking off with the starting job this year. While he will be the starter and is not competing for that job, I think his performance in these last two games has been noteworthy. We've already talked about the importance of being highly efficient in carries and Felix has shown just that. Preseason or not he's showing why he'll eclipse 1K rushing yards this year. In the two games so far Felix has managed 3 carries for 23 yards (7.7 YPC) with 1 reception for 16 yards and 7 carries for 56 yards (8 YPC), respectively. So, two games in he's posting a YPC average of 7.9. Now thats what we want to see! Obviously its the preseason and as the year goes on and carries goes up his YPC will undoubtedly drop, but its very encouraging to see him blow people away so far. If he can run wild now, once he comes back down to earth he should still be posting very good averages. Even though his runs have been stellar, it still provides stats we can compare the other backs to.
The main reason I say that is because someone else has been looking very Felix-like so far. I might just be the first one to say that thus far, but Phillip Tanner reminds me a lot of Felix. Its just that sort of finess in making people miss that even when you think the run is over, he goes ahead and eats up even more yards. Of course his main competition is early training camp favorite Lonyae Miller. Miller's performance has been absolutely dismal these past two games, making Tanner's performance all the more impressive by comparison. Let's put their numbers side by side.
|Week 1||Week 2||Average YPC|
|Tanner||9 att, 44 yds, 4.9 avg||4 att, 31 yds, 7.8 avg||5.76|
|Miller||9 att, 11 yds, 1.2 avg||6 att, 9 yds, 1.5 avg||1.3|
Plain as day Tanner blows Miller out of the water. No contest. After watching the first game, I went into the second game with a preconceived notion about these two backs that held true almost the entire time. I'm not too good at seeing a players numbers or name on the fly so I didn't really know who was rushing on any given play while it was happening. But, whenever the RB would go nowhere I would mutter Miller... and it was him. When it was a big gain for a 1st down, I would exclaim Tanner! and it was so. Miller was obviously bad and Tanner was so obviously good. What an exciting battle. Miller's best preseason game last year was 9 yards for 35 yards (3.9 YPC). Miller himself has not topped that performance from a year ago, while Tanner has done it twice already.
So far, Miller has only one 1st down, and that was on a pass from Romo, not a run. He also has a total of -4 yards on two negative plays. Meanwhile Tanner has 4 first downs and no negative yards. Also, Miller hasn't had a run for longer than 5 yards yet.
JG also wanted to see how these two backs do in the receiving game. Well, Tanner had just one catch for 3 yards. Ok, not too bad, besides 1 other incomplete pass. I'd like to see him get some more catches just to be sure he can do it. Meanwhile Miller had 3 catches for 12 yards, a 4 yard average. Hey, thats a flash of something pretty good. But wait! He fumbles the ball away on one of the catches. Ouch! So Mr. Miller, you're saying that not only are you an ineffective rusher, but you're untrustworthy as well? Way to make the decision even easier. Play by Plays for Tanner haven't been written yet so here's my attempt at it.
• Tanner hits a big hole right of center but finds it close quickly around the lead blocker Nagy. 6 Yards.
• Runs inside the right tackle but gets stone-walled. 1 Yard.
• Hits a tight gap next to the left guard into traffic, but shakes off 2 tackles and bounces off another defender to get the first down. 11 Yards.
• Inside right tackle, nowhere to run. 1 Yard.
• Fake reverse, left. Runs into a pile. No Gain.
• Middle Right. Follows the right guard then quickly cuts inside, doesn't get touched for 10 yards. 12 Yards.
• Run Left. Takes his time following the left tackle until the running lane opens then bursts through. 11 Yards.
• Run Left. Again follows left tackle but there are 4 defenders waiting for him, he slams into them anyway. 2 Yards.
• Run up the middle. No Gain.
• Run right. Follows the right tackle to the running lane. Bursts through and has contact with 5 defenders on his way to the first down. 9 Yards.
• Run right. Behind right tackle he gets stalled from behind. No Gain.
• Run left end. Tanner makes it around the edge and finishes with a nice pop on a defender. 8 Yards.
• Run left. Runs outside left tackle with nice burst, gets taken down by 3 defenders just short of a first down on 2nd & 15. 14 Yards.
• Run left end. This is the helmet-less run. He shows great physicality by attacking two defenders, and finishes the play helmet or not. Penalty makes this a non-play.
• Shotgun. Tanner runs a simple route through the middle, short. Makes the catch but slips before he's contacted. 3 Yards.
• Shotgun. Tanner tries to get separation, McGee throws the ball super early. Incomplete.
In two games Tanner has made plays on half of his rushing snaps. He displays patience before attacking and it pays off with large gains. He also displays not only finess in breaking from tackles, but also physicality in attacking defenders for extra, not negative, yards.
Tanner is very exciting to watch and I look forward to seeing him continue this high-level play the next two games. I really want to see him earn the 3rd RB spot. But... what about Choice? Isn't he the 3rd back? Not so fast. I was on the fence about Choice being here or not before preseason started, but now that I've seen what Tanner can do I am almost beyond comfortable letting him go. As long as we're talking preseason here, I think its worth watching to see what Tanner's YPC ends up being through all four games. Choice's average last preseason was 3.1. If Tanner can manage to blow that number away, go ahead, let him make the team. We've obviously got a bright young talent on our hands so why not trade Choice to Arizona? JG doesn't even want to use him anyway, so its obvious to me the only 'choice' we want for the team is a draft choice. I would be very unhappy to see Tanner shipped off the practice squad. For my money its way more interesting and exciting to have Tanner on the roster than Choice.
DeMarco Murray is finally going to attend practice and I'm desperately hoping he's going to play on saturday. We need to see what this kid can do. He really is the biggest question mark in all this. Murray needs to prove not only that he can play this year, but that he's an effective rusher as well. But, I'm very excited to see him hit the field. We've already seen stellar performances out of Felix and Tanner, now its his turn to shine. I'm pumped about this potential running back committee. Jones, Murray, and Tanner? Yes please.