When the dawn of the training camp sun crests over the Nashville horizon on Friday, July 31st, many eyes will be on the battle brewing in the Tennessean backfield. Last season, much was expected from the Titans’ 2nd round pick running back, Bishop Sankey (who was also the first running back selected in 2014). When Sankey wasn’t able to supplant plodding incumbent, Shonn Greene, red flags went up from those expecting a breakout campaign from the former Washington Huskie. A year later and Sankey is the unencumbered favorite to start training camp, but he won’t have a clear path to week 1.
ESPN Tennessee Titans reporter, Paul Kurhasky, boldly suggested in his depth chart preview that 5th round pick and former Minnesota Golden Gopher, David Cobb, will encroach upon Sankey’s opportunities—even if he is the named the camp starter. The Titans, who currently have four tailbacks on roster, struggled to get any semblance of an effective running game in 2014 and made a concerted effort in the draft to alleviate their woes by selecting fullback Jalston Fowler in the 4th round. Head Coach Ken Whisenhunt and Offensive Coordinator Jason Michael have set their eyes on a power run attack with a persistent rushing threat in projected starting quarterback, Marcus Mariota. With that in mind, it makes sense that Kurhasky anticipates Cobb to steal carries away from Sankey, who failed to make a notable impression last season with an under 4 yards per carry average.
Still, Sankey can distinguish himself from his running-mates through his athleticism and experience. Coming from the University of Washington’s zone blocking scheme, it never seemed like Sankey could gain traction behind a strictly power focused system. With a year under his belt, Sankey should make the most out of his athletic edge over the comparatively glacial David Cobb and Antonio Andrews—who both ran 4.8 40 yard dashes at the combine. In fact, the biggest hurdle from Bishop, may not be the presence of a 5th round rookie, but the glare of Dexter McCluster who may look to take significant receiving work from Sankey—an area where he was most effective last year.
Whoever emerges in the Titans backfield, the team will hope to get significant production out of a running game that will have to support a young quarterback. It makes sense that the Titans aren’t immediately ready to crown Sankey the next Eddie George, but both his upside and experience makes him a much more attractive alternative than any other player currently on the Titans’ roster.