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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Being considered the next Deebo Samuel is the hottest thing in the NFL right now.
When a player has the ability to be a playmaker as a running back and a receiver, the standard assumption seems to be that teams should use the double threat just as the San Francisco 49ers have deployed Samuel by moving him across the lineup to get him the ball as a receiver who also takes passes.
That’s certainly the case with the Jacksonville Jaguars’ versatile pass-catching running back Travis Etienne Jr., who is fully healed from the Lisfranc injury that cost him his rookie season in 2021 and who looked smooth and fast during the team’s organized team activities this spring. .
But that’s wrong.
The better plan would be to use Etienne in the same way that the New Orleans Saints use Alvin Kamara, as a running back in the passing game.
“Whatever is going to give us the best opportunity to put Travis in positions of success is what we need to do, whether it’s him as the receiver who gets in the backfield or as a running back who leaves the backfield. to be the receiver, “Jaguar’s offensive coordinator Press Taylor said. “Whatever it is, I think that kind of evolves as the season goes on, or in fact week by week.”
No one in the NFL has been a better double threat over the last five seasons than Kamara. Since joining the league in 2017 as a third-round pick from Tennessee, he has had the most catches (373) and received yards (3,263) from a running back, scoring the most touchdowns by any player (68) and his 7,501 yards from scrimmage tracks only Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (7,636).
Kamara’s role did not need to develop because the Saints highlighted him a lot in the running and passing matches right in 2017. He was number two on the team in rushing (728 yards), receptions (81) and receiving yards (826) and was the league’s offensive rookie of the Year. That season, Mark Ingram II was the Saints’ featured fullback, rushing for 1,124 yards and 12 touchdowns, and receiver Michael Thomas caught 104 passes for 1,245 yards.
Etienne is in a similar situation in Jacksonville.
Running back James Robinson comes from a torn Achilles, but is expected to be cleared during training camp, and he is the Jaguars’ No. 1 back. The Jaguars do not have a receiver like Thomas, but they signed Christian Kirk in free agency to be the team’s No. 1 receiver. Taylor and head coach Doug Pederson have also said they want to place Etienne in different places and give him the ball as much as possible.
Etienne, who has not played in a match that meant anything since Clemson’s College Football Playoff semifinal loss on January 1, 2021, cannot wait.
“I’m sure they’re planning on getting the ball in my hands,” Etienne said. “I feel like I’m a special player with the ball in my hands.
“… I feel like I definitely have [physical skills] to do it. I feel like for me the biggest thing I want to do is get out there in week 1, tear it up and just be myself again, honestly. Wherever the coach wants to use me, I’m willing to do it. I just want to help the team win matches. “
Not using Etienne, as the Saints use Kamara, would be almost irresponsible.
The team named him the 25th overall in 2021 because they needed some explosiveness in what had been a pedestrian violation. The Jaguars were last in the NFL with 16 combined rushes on 20 or more yards and passing games on 30 or more yards by 2020, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Especially because Etienne was one of the most explosive players in the country during her four-year career at Clemson. He led all players in the NCAA with 55 runs on 20 or more yards from 2017 to 2020, and rushed for 2,053 yards and 21 touchdowns – averaging 37.3 yards per game. rush on the big games. Etienne also had six receptions on 30 or more yards, giving him 61 explosive plays.
When Etienne fell with his foot injury during a preseason game against New Orleans on August 23, it removed the Jaguars’ only threat to the big game. The team was actually worse last season than it was in 2020 – 15 explosive games (runs of 20 or more yards, receptions of 30 or more yards), one less than they had in 2020 despite playing an extra game, According to ESPN Stats & Info – and the offense had an average league-worst 13.8 points per game. match.
The hope is that Etienne’s return will make a significant difference. It’s still early, but the Jaguars are encouraged.
“Gosh, it’s just exciting to get him out here and get him on the grass all offseason and really work with him,” Pederson said. “He does a great job of handling a lot of information, we throw after the guys and place him in different places. [We’re] just to see what he can do right now. “
Etienne’s speed is what stands out: He ran 4.40 in 40-yards on his professional day at Clemson, and it does not appear that the Lisfranc injury has affected that. He looked just as fast as he did when he was a rookie during the team’s OTAs, and Taylor’s eager to figure out ways to get some disagreements exploited.
“The speed is right,” Taylor said. “I think it was obviously something everyone knew when they came out of college, without having a chance to see a lot of the things he was able to do last year because he was not able to play so the speed is very real.He did a good job of just showing understanding of the different roles we are trying to see.We throw him in all different positions just to see what he is comfortable with what he should work on as we move forward, give him plans to move further into the summer and get back to training camp.
“But he has been really receptive to everything. He has shown an ability to understand many different things and show that he is capable of doing things.”
Maybe even stuff of the Kamara type.