It's sure to be one of the more anticipated developments in Buffalo's offense since Chan Gailey was hired to run it. Just how will the Bills head coach maximize the talents of Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller in 2012? If Gailey has his way the talented duo will be on the field a lot more simultaneously.
Buffalo's sideline boss shed light on some of his offensive plans concerning how they'll get the most out of Jackson and Spiller to help their offense this coming season when he spoke at the NFL Combine late last month.
"We're fortunate to have two very good backs so I'm going to try to make sure we keep them fresh and wear them out at the same time," said Gailey. "Does that make sense? But you want them on the field doing something, running routes, creating a threat for the defense but not each one of them taking a pounding with both of them carrying it a lot of times every game."
With Jackson (170) missing the last six games he only had 63 more carries than Spiller (107), who started those last six games. Both had the same number of receptions (39), due in part to the use of Spiller as a receiver when the position was beset with injury losses. As for touchdowns both contributed six. Jackson's were all on the ground while Spiller had four rushing and two receiving.
In total Jackson had 578 snaps in 2011 to Spiller's 470. Where Jackson proved to be vastly superior to Spiller was in yards after contact and in the receiving game, yards after the catch. ProFootballFocus had Jackson with 637 rushing yards after contact, which was more than double Spiller's 313. That explains Jackson forcing 34 missed tackles while Spiller had nine.
Yards after the catch told a similar story with Jackson rolling up 503, again more than double Spiller's 241 and in this case both backs had 39 receptions. Jackson also had a higher catch percentage (81.3% to 75%).
That production can partly be chalked up to Jackson's experience, his knack for making the most of the smallest creases and for rarely being taken down by the first tackler. Spiller appears to be on the ascent in his own right after a strong close to the season and his figures are only expected to improve as he gets more time on the field.
As Gailey has stated it's a good problem to have. At his season wrap up press conference Buffalo's head coach indicated that the running back duties on offense would be divided, and this past week at the Combine explained how.
"You want to create the diversity by this guy carries it one time and that guy carries it one time," said Gailey. "He's out for a pass and now he's out for a pass. Am I saying that they'll be in the game at the same time? I'm sure they will be. Don't hold me to a percentage, but they will be."
Whether they're both in the backfield pre-snap or at the snap is another story.
Who earns the starting nod at tailback is likely to be a popular subject among the media come the preseason, and it'll undoubtedly be important to Jackson and Spiller as well.
"If every guy that I have on the team doesn't want to be a starter then I've got the wrong guys," said Gailey. "I want everybody to want to be a starter, but everybody is not. There are 11 of them. You have to learn to handle that whoever it is. You have to learn to handle that."
The silver lining for Jackson and Spiller is whoever is not the starter is likely to see an awful lot of the field anyway knowing the two backs are two of the top playmakers on offense. Gailey will find a way to get the ball in each set of hands as much as possible.
"It's a great situation we have at running back," said Gailey. "We have two very good players. Both of them are productive. We have two good weapons to use going forward."