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2016 offseason: Running backs


JACKSONVILLE – It's probably not the first thing you think about when your football subconscious turns to next week's opening of Jaguars 2016 training camp.

It's likely not second or even third, either – but the running back battle is going to be very interesting to watch.

That's primarily because T.J. Yeldon is coming off a rookie season in which he averaged more than four yards per carry, posted 100-yard rushing games against Buffalo and Indianapolis and showed promise as a receiving threat out of the backfield.

And despite all of those reasons for encouragement and optimism, Jaguars General Manager Dave Caldwell showed free-agent running back Chris Ivory a big check – a really big check for a running back in today's game.

So, the Jaguars – who struggled in short-yardage situations a season ago – now have an ideal running back combination. They have quickness and elusiveness from Yeldon and they have raw power – even anger – from Ivory, who smiled recently when asked about his running style.

"You could say that, sure," he said when asked if he ran angry. "I try and run as hard as possible, to get as many yards as possible every time I get the ball. It's (anger) just the way I play."

Ivory is coming off a season with the New York Jets in which he led the AFC with 1,070 yards rushing, averaged 4.3 yards per carry and scored seven touchdowns in his first ever Pro Bowl season.

So let's put the pieces together. Combine elusiveness and power. Let's call it thunder and lightning – two running backs who averaged better than four yards per carry and two running backs who can catch the ball. What's not to like?

"We're really excited about what those guys are going to do," Jaguars offensive coordinator Greg Olson said during the 2016 offseason. "We think Ivory's power will make us a lot better in short-yardage situations and you all saw what we like about T.J. It gives a chance at being better balanced and that sets up our play-action game."

That might be the most enticing part of Caldwell's $10 million dollar gamble on a power runner with some miles on his legs. Ivory in the backfield is sure to get the attention of the safeties. That will play into quarterback Blake Bortles' strength as a play-action passer, particularly in short-yardage situations.

"Absolutely, that's something I'm excited to work with," Bortles said. "T.J. was awesome last year and Ivory's a great power runner. You can't help but keep a defense honest with those two guys which should open things up for Allen and Allen and Julius and those guys on the outside. I think it's going to be great."

The number of options with which Bortles will work in his third NFL season clearly is greatly increased from his second season. One of those options that currently seems well under the radar is Denard Robinson, whose role has shifted from game to game and season to season since he was drafted in the fifth round in the 2013 NFL Draft.

He of course brings speed, and has flashed the ability to carry the ball with power and in traffic – and his improved receiving skills make him a guy you can line up all over the field in an effort to create a mismatch.

"No doubt, we've got lots of guys that a defense has to pay attention to this year," Robinson said. "I'm ready to do whatever they (Olson and the offensive coaching staff) want me to do. I'm confident in my speed to play outside and even though people don't think I'm a power runner … I like carrying the ball right at the defense."

There is plenty of attention on the Jaguars' offense this year, a season after Bortles shattered team passing records and Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns both went for more than 1,000 yards receiving. Mix in high expectations for Julius Thomas and Marqise Lee and you'd think that's all there is to the Jacksonville offense.

But if you look closely you'll see a compelling story emerging in the shadows of the passing attack and one that could act as either a spark or the fuel to the fire … depending on how you look at it.

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