Robert Sabo/New York Daily News
In a perfect world, Chris Ivory, who only has 256 career regular-season carries, would provide versatility this season.
CORTLAND — Chris Ivory stood in the rain on Thursday without any worry that his troublesome hamstring that has kept him out of team drills during the first week of Jets practice will be fine.
Patience is a part of his DNA. So, he’s not sweating it.
“I have real high expectations,” Ivory told the Daily News. “Once I get out there, I’ll open some more eyes.”
Jets offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg has the unenviable task of resurrecting one of the most anemic offenses in the league from last season. His well-chronicled penchant for airing it out masks the fact that Ivory, more than anyone not named (INSERT STARTING QUARTERBACK HERE), must be the engine for the offense to flourish.
To that end, the Jets’ presumed backfield-by-committee may be more streamlined than you think. The hope is that Ivory, who has shown flashes of greatness in limited snaps during his first three seasons with the Saints, can become a three-down back, a rarity in this specialized era. “I think with a back with that skill set, you definitely want to work toward that progression,” said assistant head coach Anthony Lynn, who is in charge of running backs. “So if you needed him out there for blocking purposes or receiving purposes, you could use him.”
Mornhinweg’s pass-heavy reputation, ironically, is built on a foundation of efficiency on the ground.
The Eagles ranked first, third and seventh in yards per carry in the NFC the last three seasons under Mornhinweg. LeSean McCoy, who averaged 55 receptions and 397 receiving yards in four years with Mornhinweg, was a dual-threat centerpiece in Philadelphia’s pass-friendly scheme.
In a perfect world, Ivory, who only has 256 career regular-season carries, would provide that type of versatility this season.
“It’s not a challenge,” said Ivory, who has averaged 5.1 yards per carry in his career. “I know I’m capable of it. Once I’m healthy, I know all those things will fall in place . . . and everybody will see the three-down back that I am.”
Ivory’s self-confidence notwithstanding, there are fair questions about whether a player with three career receptions for 32 yards in 26 games can provide that critical dimension in Mornhinweg’s West Coast system. The Jets haven’t pigeonholed Ivory, even though he has run a pass route only 78 times with five targets in his career, according to Pro Football Focus.
Eagles running backs were targeted on 16.4% of their pass plays last season (roughly the same as the Jets), but Mornhinweg’s system includes concepts that allow quarterbacks to look for pass catchers out of the backfield more often.
“More of the progressions are designed to look at the back,” Lynn said of the difference from last year’s system, which produced just 44 catches for 341 yards from running backs.
The Saints’ plethora of pass catchers turned Ivory into a predictable piece of their high-octane puzzle. New Orleans ran the ball 77% of the time he was on the field.
Robert Sabo/New York DAily News
The biggest unknown is Chris Ivory’s ability to pick up blitzes.
The Jets have other viable receiving options out of the backfield, such as Bilal Powell, Joe McKnight and Mike Goodson, whose legal and personal issues have clouded his future with the team. But Mornhinweg and Lynn believe that Ivory is more than capable of filling that role, too. He impressed with his catching ability during the Jets’ offseason program.
“Ivory catches well,” Lynn said. “Just because they didn’t throw it to him doesn’t mean he can’t catch. . . . We’ll definitely use him. I don’t know if he’s dropped a ball since he’s been here. He’s showing nothing but natural hands.”
The biggest unknown is Ivory’s ability to pick up blitzes, which won’t reveal itself until he gets back on the field.
“I thought it would be progressing a little bit better than it has,” Rex Ryan said of Ivory and his hamstring tightness. “Hopefully, it’s just a matter of time before he gets back out there. Because we all want to see him.”
Last year, Powell was the Jets’ best back in pass protection, which gives him an edge to assume the third-down role (if Goodson is out of the picture).
Ivory’s primary value will come on first and second downs as a physical, yet elusive runner. The 6-0, 222-pound Ivory, who was acquired for a fourth-round pick in a draft-day deal, is an upgrade from the departed Shonn Greene, but he will have to stay healthy after dealing with knee, foot and hamstring issues in recent years.
“I’m mindful of it,” the 25-year-old Ivory said of finding a balance between being a physical runner and preserving his body. “It just depends on the down and situation. If we got third-and-3, I’m going (all-out).”
Ryan says that the Jets have a “receiver-friendly, tailback-friendly and quarterback-friendly” system, but it’ll be imperative to have a very productive running back to give his team a chance.
Ivory, marginalized last season in a crowded backfield that included underachieving first-round pick Mark Ingram, is a man of few words. But he’s seething inside.
“I just had to be patient,” Ivory said. “I had to deal with it and wait my turn. But it was hard.”
He paused and smiled.
“It was very hard.”