We continue our running back discussion with another sit-down with The Bear Will Not Quit and Hydrotech (to see our discussion of Kevin Riley and quarterback mechanics, click it). There are still some unanswered questions as to whether Jahvid Best can shoulder the load against tougher opponents, and whether he's durable enough to withstand the tougher Pac-10 defenses. Are these concerns valid?
The questions are in bold, TBWNQ's and Hydro's answers are separated and labeled.
1) Jahvid Best is an amazing talent, but he does have his weaknesses. The first of which is he gets injured. Does he put himself at risk with some of his moves and what can he do to prevent further injury?
TBWNQ: People keep saying he is injury prone and apparently, that has now become a knock against him. I have to disagree. Look at Lynch. He missed 0 games in 2004 and 2.5 games in 2005 with a broken finger. I don't think anyone considered him "injury prone" going into his junior season.
Best missed 3 games in 2007 and 1.5 games in 2008. That's 4.5 vs. 2.5 missed games. I don't think those two extra missed games all of a sudden make him injury prone. Plus, he had more rushing yards and more all purpose yards than Lynch in his first full season as a starter, so healthy or not, he was a more productive runner than Lynch in virtually every statistical category. And, Best's hip injury was a total freak injury, just like Lynch's finger injury.
That said, much like Lynch did, Best does have certain elements to his running style that could put him in danger.
Gould-coached tailbacks are traditionally very adept at slipping contact, avoiding direct hits, and staying balanced and in control as they go down, to avoid awkward falls. Guys like Arrington and Forsett excelled at this. If you watched them closely, you noticed they pretty often got tackled and went down the same handful of ways. That was by design, because they were well coached and in control. Lynch never really fully bought into the Gould method in this regard. Best is still working on this a bit, and he's getting better, but he's still got a few issues.
First, because of how fast he gets going into the secondary, he takes some vicious hits. He does not try to be shifty like Vereen or Forsett, preferring to blow by people and make quick cuts without losing speed. If a guy gets a bead on him though, he's going to absorb a bit hit.
Second, because he is going so fast, at times he can fall awkwardly without a ton of body control, such as when he bent his elbow vs. CSU. He was a bit out of control there as he fell, and the result was a costly injury.
Third, he does at times totally give up his leverage to a tackler by getting wrapped up while he's standing up straight, putting him at risk to get slammed or thrown to the ground.
Hydro: I think Jahvid does put himself at risk for injury with his playing style. His moves often defy what we think humans are capable of. He's really pushing the limits of what humans can do and is also pushing his body to the limits too. To avoid injury, he shouldn't necessarily alter his playing style, but should make sure he builds strength and flexibility to withstand the forces he's exerting on himself.
2) The second is we don't know his capabilities as a short yardage runner (he averaged around 2.8 yards per carry on 3rd down, albeit a small sample size). What changes could you see Best making this offseason to improving on that aspect of his game? Do you see Vereen and Deboskie being more capable of handling that role?
TBWNQ: I frankly don't think Best is really a short yardage back in the sense of being able to grind out yards where there is no daylight. That's not his game and I am not really sure the coaches should try to force him to do that. It creates a ton more contact and gives guys a free shot at him. I know that like Bush did, Best wants to prove he can be a between the tackles back with some power. But the fact is, like Bush was, he's a game breaker who excels in space and on 1st and 2d down when defenses have to be honest. That is I think his best use for this team, not running him into a stacked box on 3rd and short.
If Best and the coaches want to try to add this element to his game, he is going to have to change his running style for short yardage. He is going to have to do one of two things: (1) get strong enough to keep his base when guys get hands on him (which I think requires too much weight to keep his speed), or (2) learn to cool the jets a bit and pinball and slip his way through the smaller spaces (which will require him to switch running styles during the course of a game).
I think Vereen is better in short yardage than Best because he tends to shift and hop around in small spaces better, waiting for seams and slipping into creases. He also manages to avoid hits a bit better, make himself slight, fall forward, crab walk, and claw for that last yard very well as he's falling forward from being tackled, another Ron Gould hallmark.
This is the silent killer of the Gould method. It is demoralizing to defenders to hit a RB and then watch the referee spot the ball 1 or 2 yards further downfield because the RB managed to stumble or claw forward as he was going down, play after play after play. Vereen is very adept at this, like Arrington and Forsett were, and in this regard, is a much more prototypical Ron Gould tailback.
Between Best and Vereen, I think Vereen is much more likely to get you that yard or two when you need it, but much less likely than Best to rip off an 80-yard run through a hole that hasn't opened yet. And that is exactly how they should be used this season.
Hydro: I don't think Jahvid is necessarily a bad short-yardage runner. The reason why he probably averages such a low amount on short yardage is because defenses are expecting the run. Cal rarely passes on short yardage situations. Instead, Cal will just hand off the rock. Defenses know this tendency and are looking out for the run. I think that's the bigger reason of why Jahvid has a lower carry average on short yardage downs rather than something he's not doing right.
3) What are the strengths and weaknesses of Vereen's running ability? What are the adjustments he'll have to make?
TBWNQ: In terms of strengths, it's pretty much what I said above. Vereen has the ability to manufacture yards bit by bit, the Gould way. He also has the ability to do it while avoiding hard hits, which helps him stay fresher and avoid injuries throughout the course of a season. Arrington and Forsett also were able to do this.
One of the things Vereen does well is accelerate quickly from a near stop once he sees a hole. Best does this well too, but is better once he's moving a bit. Vereen doesn't have Best's jets, but he can slip quickly into creases from a dead stop, and stay low enough to make progress that way.
The other thing Vereen does well is catch-and-run. He has fluid hips and great body control, so he can catch and turn it up field pretty seamlessly, similar to how Lynch could.
In terms of adjustments, like most young backs, his biggest area for improvement is blocking. He's a bit on the small side to be taking on the Maualugas of the world, but he has to learn to slow those guys down.
He also needs to put on some thickness and strength, because at his weight, he is still too easy to trip up or manhandle. I think when it is all said and done, if Vereen hangs onto his job his junior and senior year, he'll have a lot of yards and be very productive. He'll never be a game breaker, but with the linemen that are coming in, and his speed and coachability, he could end being an Arrington-type guy who just cranks out yards quietly.
Hydro: One thing I like about Vereen is that he plays pretty low to the ground. Jahvid Best can get a little too upright at times, but Vereen tends to stay squat giving him a lower center of gravity. That lower center of gravity allows him to maintain a better balance and not get tripped up as easily as Best does.