Use this scheme to prevent injuries and maximize productivity.
In recent years, football has seen an uptick in the awareness of injuries. Football is a difficult game and one that can quickly take a physical toll on players.
This isn’t just at the professional level. Coaches at all levels should be implementing game plans that are designed to protect the safety of all players. In reality, unless you’re a punter or kicker, you are susceptible to the taxing nature of football.
In this article, I’ll breakdown how a running back by committee scheme can lighten the load at one of the most difficult positions in football.
The term “bell-cow” is actually most often used in fantasy football circles, but it can be transferred over to actual football matters. In short, a bell-cow back is someone that handles all of the carries.
Obviously, in a committee, this guy won’t be a literal bell-cow as he’ll be splitting carries, but each team needs a guy at the top of the depth chart. Rather than handling the normal three downs, a bell-cow in a committee will take first and second downs.
For this spot, the priority is finding a consistent back who doesn’t fumble and is able to run between the tackles. While hands and big-play ability can help, they are not nearly as important as the capability to pick up tough yards in the trenches.
In terms of current bell-cows, the best professional example has to be DeMarco Murray during his past season with the Dallas Cowboys.
Scatbacks are the smaller backs who possess superior speed and elusiveness.
They may not have the strength of the bell-cow, but what they do have is the ability to make big-time football plays.
Scatbacks are capable of serving in pass protection, as well as being yet another option in the passing game for the quarterback. While the bell-cow is going to traditionally run between the tackles, the scatback will take his carries outside the hashes. Their elusiveness allows them to consistently make tacklers miss in the open field.
Finally, scatbacks can also provide value on special teams to justify their spot on the roster. A perfect NFL example is Darren Sproles. Sproles has carved out a steady NFL career for his exceptional work on third-downs, in the passing game, and as a kick returner on special teams. Learn how to implement a run game with Darren Sproles.
The final type of back a coach can add to his committee is a goal-line back, which in most cases will simply be your full-back. The goal-line back can be thought of as a short-yardage specialist. His primary playing time will come on 3rd or 4th and short and when the offense finds itself inside the five yard line.
The two most important qualities a goal-line back can have are massive strength, to avoid getting stopped on these short-yardage situations, and a sure-hand grip that never fumbles. A miscue by the goal-line back usually takes points off the board, so you want someone with reliable consistency.
Many players have held this role in recent years, including Mike Tolbert. Even though Tolbert was able to handle additional carries, his primary value came in his ability to convert short-yardage situations and put points on the board.
Minimizing Injury Risk For Your Players
Running backs are inherently injury prone due to the nature of their football position. Handling 20 carries a game puts a significant toll on the body. Furthermore, expecting that same player to assist in pass protection and add a few more touches in the passing game is difficult. There’s no way getting around the fact that injuries are a definite possibility.
Meanwhile, you can’t abandon the run game completely as a passing-dominant team is easy to plan for. It allows the opposing coach to add in more defensive backs and makes your offense one-dimensional.
The only way to overcome this massive injury risk associated with ball-carriers is to implement a committee scheme. It spreads out the touches amongst three or more players and prevents one player from taking all the punishment. It also allows you to utilize a wider number of strengths on your roster.
Maximizing Yards-Per-Carry For Your Team
YPC stands for yards per carry. It is a key barometer of success in football. While a significant deal of the YPC depends on the ability of an offensive line to open up holes, much depends on the running back’s ability to exploit openings and achieve big gains.
A player may be in top-notch physical condition, but if he is nicked up and has been carrying the rock for three quarters, isn’t it fair to say that he may be a little fatigued by the fourth? To combat this and achieve a higher YPC, the committee will keep players fresher.
The San Diego Chargers experimented with a committee back in 2011 that featured Ryan Mathews and Mike Tolbert. The duo combined for 1,582 rushing yards, 888 receiving yards, and 16 touchdowns. It is highly unlikely either of these two would have been able to put up those numbers on their own. However, a committee made it doable because they were able to maintain a steady YPC that encouraged the coach to put his faith in the running game.
Before making any changes to one’s offensive or defensive game plan, coaches must have a clear understanding of their personnel.
In terms of committee, it’s going to be different for each team. If a team doesn’t have an elite, sturdy back that can handle a full load of carries, a committee is going to make sense. Conversely, if a team has an Adrian Peterson, then a true committee scheme makes no sense.
Certain players possess the durability to handle a full load and the type of talent that makes them difficult to remove from the field. In a similar fashion, if a team operates on a heavy passing attack, it might make sense to keep the scatback out there for some early downs to add another weapon. It all depends on the horses you have in your stable.
And be sure to run your stable of backs through these running back drills.
Successful Running Back By Committee Examples
As I previously mentioned, running back committees are becoming more and more common at all levels of football, largely due to the fact that awareness of injuries is finally coming to the forefront. Here are some successful examples that demonstrate what’s possible.
- 2014 New York Jets – While the 2014 season was a disaster for the Jets’ offense, I do believe they found some success when they implemented a committee. Despite playing behind an abysmal quarterback performance this year (though I don’t blame this entirely on Geno Smith), the duo of Chris Ivory and Chris Johnson managed to amass nearly 1,500 yards and 7 touchdowns, with both averaging over 4 yards per carry. These two guys complemented each other perfectly with Ivory’s tough between-the-tackles running style and Johnson’s home-run ability.
- 2014 Alabama Crimson Tide – On a college scale, you can never go wrong with an Alabama example. Here, offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin designed a committee that featured a powerful between-the-tackles runner in Derrick Henry and a jack-of-all-trades in T.J. Yeldon. Obviously, it helps to have the talent level of these two guys, but I believe the way Kiffin utilized their individual talents allowed them to flourish. Henry finished with 990 yards (5.8 YPC) and 11 touchdowns, while Yeldon racked up 979 yards (5.0 YPC) and 11 touchdowns.
Some of the old-school football people may disagree with a committee scheme, but I believe it is the only way to ensure longevity for running backs, maximizing their career potential and preserving their health for life after football.
At any level, wither you’re coaching high school kids or a youth football team, coaches need to do their best to protect players from serious injuries. Along with some of the protective equipment that has been hitting the market, I believe a committee scheme is one of the best possible tactical adjustments to lessen the risk of injury for your running backs while simultaneously maximizing their benefit to your team on the field.