August 22, 2012

Cauz: Is the 20-plus carry running back in the past?

When Cory Boyd was released by the Argonauts all the attention focused on “why”. We speculated about his blocking prowess, we jumped all over Rob Murphy’s twitter accusations all the while we heard Toronto’s coaching staff repeat the mantra that this move was strictly about getting to the Grey Cup.

I thought about Mike Pringle.

I’m guessing you didn’t expect that to be the next sentence. Let me explain.

You see sports, especially, in media form, are chalk filled with clichés. Some of us are worse than others. As a radio host I do my best to avoid them. I find they rarely provide real information, and really are just time wasters spouted by talking heads that have nothing to say but nonetheless feel the need to open their mouth. I call it empty calorie broadcasting.

Let me give you an example: “If you want to win (PAUSE) in the Canadian Football (PAUSE) League you gotta be able to pass the ball. I don’t care how good of a running game you have; you’re not going to win the Grey Cup without an elite quarterback who can make big plays at big moments.” That statement is 49 words long, takes about 33 seconds to say and has not given you the listener one ounce of meaningful insight; and frankly it isn’t that entertaining. It’s more stalling than scintillating.

Last of his kind

Matt Cauz argues that Mike Pringle was the last true running back that changed the game by receiving 20 or more carries in a game.  Now, teams are including their backs much more into the pass offence.

Now let’s take this Cory Boyd. (Don’t worry were getting to Pringle and a much bigger picture soon.) After Boyd was released we heard the following: “Boyd just doesn’t work in this offence. He’s a guy who’s at his best getting 20 carries a game”.

20 carries a game? Huh? What is this, 1998?

I have trouble sleeping at night because my mind is always thinking. So I started thinking about this mantra, the idea that a running back like Cory Boyd needs 20 carries a game to truly be effective.

Than I started to feel bad for Boyd and his prospects for a long career in the Canadian Football League. (I could have just gone with CFL, was seeing if you were paying attention).

You see in my mind this type of player really doesn’t exist anymore. In fact I don’t think it ever did. The closest we’ve come in the last 20 years? Mike Pringle.  

For those of you who don’t remember, Pringle was an absolute force of nature who dominated defences with a combination of speed and power that doesn’t exist anymore.

Don’t believe me?

Take a look at these ridiculous numbers:

1994        18    308        1972            
1995        17    311        1791            
1997        17    306        1775            
1998        18    347        2065            
1999        16    322        1656
2000        17    326        1778

I could have included all his touchdowns, receiving yards and the other years of his Hall of Fame career. But I’m going to be throwing a whole bunch stats at you soon so I figured I’d just give you his rushing numbers from his prime years.

Six straight seasons of 300+ carries is unheard of. In the past seven seasons only one back, Charles Roberts with 303 carries in 2006 topped the 300 carry mark. Of course if you do the math (and I did) Pringle never had a 20+ carry average for a year. The closet was his 2,065 yard campaign in 1998.

Here are some other numbers to consider:

(1) In the past two seasons the leagues leading rushers (Brandon Whitaker and Fred Reid) registered a whopping total of zero 20+ carry games in their respective leading seasons.

(2) In the past six seasons the league has averaged just under four 1,000 yard rushers per year.

(3) The 2011 regular season consisted of 144 games. Of those 144 games only twice did we see a running back hit that mythical territory of 20 carries.

(4) Historically there really are only two running backs of note when it comes to work load George Reed and Pringle. They’re the only two running backs have more than 2,000 career rushes, Reed with a never to happen again 3,243 carries and Pringle with 2,962.

(5) The next highest total … Quarterback Damon Allen with nearly 1,200 fewer carries.  
The idea of the grinding 20+ carry back comes from NCAA football and the NFL. Of course the numbers are down south of the border as well with offences favouring 3-4 WR sets and spread formations

The best running backs now are the guys that can be effective with 11-15 rushes and have the ability to record at least 3-6 receptions per game as well. They need to be versatile enough to line up in the slot and run more comprehensive routes than simple flare outs and screens. That’s why I wasn’t surprised to see Chad Kackert has success in his game as a starter, he represents the hybrid back that is in vogue in 2012.

Of course as a fan of all aesthetics of the game I’m hoping there will be a place for a player like Cory Boyd or a Jerome Messam. With football being such a cyclical sport you never can tell what new trends will dominate the game, but I do know we will never see another Mike Pringle again.