FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — It was just last week that the Jets found their running game, the previously missing-in-action Shonn Greene taking control of the offense and powering the team to a 35-9 win over the Colts. It was a needed push, a needed win, a needed spark.
Now, though, the Jets are looking at a roster decimated at running back, facing the distinct possibility that both Joe McKnight and Bilal Powell will be out Sunday against the Patriots.
So whom might the Jets turn to? Tim Tebow, of course.
Asked Thursday if the quarterback could see time as a rusher at Gillette Stadium, Jets coach Rex Ryan said, “That’s a possibility.”
“The thing about Tim, with him being a football player like we’ve always talked about, by playing quarterback he knows all the positions,” Ryan said. “So, can you plug him at running back? Can you plug him at tight end? I think the answer is yes.”
Offensive coordinator Tony Sparano was far less willing to discuss the option, saying, “There’s a possibility of a lot of things. We’ll see.”
Both McKnight (high ankle sprain) and Powell (separated shoulder) did not practice again Thursday, though Ryan was unwilling to rule out either for the game. He said the Jets would judge their availability as the week went on. Reports suggest that Powell will not play. McNight was quoted in the New York Post as saying, “I’m playing.’’
If neither McKnight nor Powell play, the only two running backs on the roster are Greene — who had a career-high 161 yards on 32 carries against the Colts — and Jonathan Grimes, a rookie out of William and Mary who was signed off the Texans’ practice squad Sept. 25 and has yet to touch the ball in an NFL game.
“We have guys that can go,” Ryan said. “Obviously Shonn really took the majority of all the snaps, even on third down. Grimes has been here now for four or five weeks. There’s other things we can do.”
That brings up Tebow.
“I think you start with his skill set, but I think his skill set would be more based on power,” Ryan said. “I think he’s not going to be a blazer compared to other running backs, but he has power.”
For the Jets, that skill set is a bit redundant with Greene, who is also a power back. The injured McKnight is generally the player who brings the change of pace in the running game.
“Shonn brings a ton of power with him,” Ryan said. “I don’t know how different that would be [with Tebow].”
Though the Jets acquired Tebow from Denver before this season, he has yet to really make an impact. Tebow has 18 rushing attempts for 64 yards, mostly in the Wildcat. He is also 2 for 3 on pass attempts for 32 yards.
“I would be ready for whatever I would be asked to do, absolutely,” Tebow said.
But when asked whether that could mean playing running back, he said, “I don’t know. It’s not something that’s been talked [about] or planned or worked on at all, so probably not.”
Patriots coach Bill Belichick, though, does see Tebow in the role, something he noted earlier in the week. Belichick called Tebow “really another running back for them when he gets in there. He can throw it, too, obviously, but he does a good job running the ball.”
Belichick added, “He’s a good runner, strong runner, very strong, good thrower, mobile in the pocket, smart player, can do a lot of different things, has different option plays and things like that. You certainly have to be aware when he’s in there.”
It would be significant for the Jets if they continue their success in the running game, especially given the struggles that Mark Sanchez has had. The quarterback had a run of four straight games with a completion percentage less than 50 percent before he went 11 for 18 against the Colts, his efficiency bolstered by the ground game.
“It was really good, really gratifying,” Sparano said. “I’ve said for a while I really think we’re close. There were some really good things done in that game up front, with everybody involved.
“But obviously the line, the tight ends, the way the back ran the ball. Just good to be able to get into one of those kind of games where you can do it and keep feeding Shonn and the backs and let them do what they do.”
It was a step in the right direction, but as center Nick Mangold said, it didn’t solve everything.
“I think that we made good strides, but nothing is ever completely fixed,” Mangold said. “There’s always something to tinker.”
Could that tinkering involve Tebow?
Perhaps one of the backs the Jets will be feeding Sunday will be the quarterback, getting him involved in the offense in a way New York has yet to really try. Greene, for one, didn’t seem eager about losing carries to the NFL’s most notable backup.
“Whatever it takes for us to win,” Greene said.
Asked what Tebow would add to the running game, he said, “I don’t know. I guess I’ll see, just like you guys.
“If we can get a win with that, then that’s fine with me.”