Earnest Byner was one of the most durable and dependable running backs of his time, but one lapse at the worst possible time resulted in a life-long reputation for "The Fumble." He's determined that it won't happen to any of the backs he coaches.
The Jaguars' new running backs coach put his charges through an interesting strip drill in Monday's OTA practice. Maurice Jones-Drew and company ran through a funnel of running back mates, each doing his best to dislodge the ball. At the end of the back's run, he flopped onto a foam-rubber pad, with the ball, of course.
"It's a bad thing," Byner said of fumbles and what they do to offenses. "We try to get guys thinking about it."
The good news for Byner is that his star running back, Jones-Drew, is one of the most secure ball-carriers in the league. Jones-Drew lost only one fumble last season.
"Maurice is very talented. The whole group takes a lot of notes, but he's meticulous. Maurice is set to have one of those breakout-type of years," Byner said.
Jones-Drew had a breakout year in 2009. In his first season as the Jaguars' true feature back, Jones-Drew rushed for 1,391 yards and 15 touchdowns, and caught 53 passes for 374 yards and a touchdown. His 1,765 total yards from scrimmage was fourth-best in the league.
As strong as those numbers are, however, they pale in comparison to those of Chris Johnson, who Byner coached to a league-leading 2,509 total yards from scrimmage with the Titans last season.
Life's good when you can go from coaching the number one guy to the number four guy, but it does beg the question: How do you lose your job when you have the number one guy in the league?
"The reality is Jeff (Fisher) wanted to make a change. I had a good run there, a lot of success. Jeff wanted Kennedy, got Kennedy and it opened up a spot for me here," Byner said.
It's one of the more unique coaching exchanges in recent NFL memory. Fisher fired Byner to hire Kennedy Pola, Jack Del Rio's long-time running backs coach in Jacksonville. Then Del Rio hired Byner. Why not? Who doesn't want a guy who coached a running back to 2,509 yards?
It'll be fun to watch and see who got the better end of the deal. Did Pola trade up or did Byner fall into clover?
"C.J. is a little less outspoken. Maurice lets me know what he's thinking and I want to know what he's thinking," Byner said in comparing the two star runners.
Byner played for the Cleveland Browns' run-the-ball heyday. He and Kevin Mack formed the league's dominant two-man rushing attack in the late-1980's.
"You have to have a couple of good runners to get through the season. MoJo is the lead dog now, but all of the other guys should prepare themselves for the opportunity," Byner said.
His stable of running backs includes second-year man Rashad Jennings and rookie Deji Karim. Fullbacks Greg Jones, Montell Owens and Brock Bolen also have run-and-catch skills.
What's Byner's philosophy?
"Run it as much as you can. Hand it to your best player," he said.
It certainly worked for Johnson.