About three months ago, I threw together my first cheat sheet for the upcoming season. It looked a lot like everyone else's, I'm guessing, except for a few notable upgrades. I had Domanick Davis penciled in as the number seven overall player and Tatum Bell in the top 15. Why? Because of a little something called the zone blocking scheme.
We all know that this system has produced many a 1,000-yard rusher in Denver, but in most years, that just means we get to take a stab at the Broncos starting running back. However, for 2006, there was going to be an additional team in the mix. Although the Texans have been running a zone blocking scheme of their own for the past few years, line coach Joe Pendry has employed very limited use of dangerous cut blocking techniques (good for the health of defensive lineman, bad for running backs). Now former Broncos assistant Gary Kubiak is the head man in Houston and you can guarantee that the Texans' version of the zone blocking scheme will more closely resemble the one used in Denver.
For that reason, I was bullish on Domanick Davis. He had somehow avoided the fate of being "The Guy Replaced By Reggie Bush" and seemed poised for a huge year under Kubiack. I was also giddy about Tatum Bell's chances now that Mike Anderson is thousands of miles away in Baltimore. I imagined that the two systems would probably produce somewhere between 4,500 and 5,000 rushing yards and about 40 touchdowns (the two squads combined for 4,350 yards and 34 touchdowns on the ground last year) and I imagined that Davis and Tatum Bell would get their fair share of those numbers. I dreamed of getting both guys out of a late first-round draft spot and naming my team "I Love Zone Blocking."
Then the reports started rolling in. Davis' knee wasn't recovering as the Texans had hoped and Mike Shanahan didn't believe Tatum Bell could be an every-down back. Then Davis' knee got progressively worse and Tatum went further into the doghouse. Next thing you knew, some guy named Mike Bell was the starting running back in Denver. A few days ago, ESPN reported that Davis might be cut from the Houston roster and there are still whisperings that he could spend the entire season on IR. Suffice to say, my June dreams were dashed.
So now what? In Denver the job appears to be Mike Bell's, but Tatum is still in the mix, as is Cedric Cobbs. All three seem to be good one-cut runners that can find the seams in the zone blocking scheme, but none have won over the ruthless (when it comes to running backs) Shanahan.
In Houston, rookie Wali Lundy looks like he could be the guy, but for how long? He has the right running style and seems to posses great instincts, but in addition to a possible Davis return, Lundy has his own injury concerns to deal with, as he was notoriously brittle in college at UVA. Will Vernand Morency get a look? Will Davis make it back to play this year? If so, which guy will get the carries? Throw in the possibility of retreads Ron Dayne (Denver) and Antwoine Smith (Houston) making their respective rosters and there are anywhere from six to eight running backs competing for those 4,500 yards and 40 scores.
All of a sudden, those once-glorious totals don't look so good. And I'm pretty bummed about the whole thing. It would be like the Phoenix Suns running a 12-man rotation where everyone gets equal playing time or Texas Tech playing two quarterbacks and eight different receivers. The perfect system is being wasted!
Well, at least Warrick Dunn is a sure-thing in Atlanta, where offensive line coaching legend and zone blocking master Alex Gibbs has the Falcons ground game in fine form. Oh wait, Dunn is 31 years old, closing in on 2,000 carries, and trying to hold off upstart rookie Jerious Norwood.
As George Constanza once complained, "Why must there always be a problem?"
Posted by Adam Hoff at 9/1/2006 12:42:00 AM