Believe it or not, it is possible to go under the radar at New York Jets training camp.
As a rookie fourth-round draft pick last season, running back Bilal Powell barely saw any real NFL action.
Fourth-string on the running back depth chart, Powell saw a grand total of 13 carries as a rookie, and he entered training camp as an afterthought, especially after the Jets drafted another running back in April.
However, with the retirement of veteran LaDainian Tomlinson, a quiet competition arose on offense. A very quiet competition.
While every alleged journalist was too busy watching the quarterback competition that wasn’t between Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow, few paid attention to the position battle at running back.
The 23-year-old Powell (#29, above) had been battling third-year pro Joe McKnight for the third-down back role. Now it appears that Powell, the forgotten back last season, has won the job.
Arguably no player in training camp had a more impressive showing, day in and day out, than Powell.
In preseason action, he rushed the ball 26 times for 92 yards and also had three catches for 17 yards. More notably, no player has improved more over the offseason than Powell has.
The biggest reason Powell won the job over the athletic McKnight, however was his pass blocking.
Starting running back Shonn Greene has always struggled with pass protection, and while McKnight has improved his technique, Powell is by far the best of the three.
Keeping Mark Sanchez upright is a key x-factor in the Jets’ success this season. Even if Powell doesn’t put a scare into opposing defenses, his blitz recognition and pass blocking is invaluable.
Powell deserves a ton of credit for his improved play this summer, and hopefully it translates into a big year on the field.
As he well knows from sitting and watching last season, the opportunity to step on an NFL field and make an impact can never be taken for granted.
You can expect Powell to enter the game in third-down situations. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that McKnight won’t be a factor as well.
McKnight has been dealing with a hamstring injury and is the Jets’ primary kick returner as well, but he’s still a dynamic weapon who will see time on offense, provided he’s healthy.
Can Bilal Powell be the missing piece for the Jets offense? This season, he’ll get his chance to prove himself. After his stellar play in training camp, he’s earned it.
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