EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Brandon Jacobs(notes) would love to trade a little pain in July for better health in the regular season. The New York Giants hope that equation works because when you look at the numbers, a healthy Jacobs at running back has a stunning impact on their offense – nearly an 11-point per game difference.
At a time when NFL running backs are increasingly considered replaceable parts, the 6-foot-4, 264-pound Jacobs is a huge exception. In the two seasons since Jacobs took over as the starter following Tiki Barber's(notes) retirement, New York's offensive production has been drastically different when he plays compared to when he doesn't.
In the 24 games Jacobs has played, the Giants have averaged 26.9 points. In the eight games he hasn't, they have averaged 19.4 points, a difference of 7.5 points per game. There's also a ripple effect on defense. In those same 24 games he has played, the Giants defense has allowed 19.3 points. In the eight he missed, the defense allowed 22.6, a difference of 3.3 points.
Add it up and Jacobs' presence has been worth a jaw-dropping 10.8 points per game over the past two seasons.
Jacobs' health is even more of a concern now that the Giants have lost top backup Derrick Ward(notes) to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in free agency. That's what Jacobs is thinking about as he goes through the offseason program this year. Aside from the usual training rigors, Jacobs has been doing boxing training. In July, he's headed to a karate dojo to do extensive stretching.
"I'm having somebody stretch every muscle in my body to make me as flexible as I can be," said Jacobs, who led the team with 1,089 rushing yards in 2008. "I'm trying to make myself a little more light on my feet so I can make people miss and then run away from them. Yeah, it's gonna hurt, but that's OK. I want to be limber and quick."
The reality for Jacobs, who has had back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, is that a lot of people have been running away from him. After Jacobs posterized Washington Redskins safety LaRon Landry(notes) last year in the season opener, cornerbacks, safeties and even some linebackers looked hesitant, if not simply scared, when tackling him.
"That's a whole lot of man out there," said cornerback Darrelle Revis(notes), whose New York Jets allowed 100 rushing yards to Jacobs in a 2007 defeat. "He looks like a defensive lineman running the ball … you see it when you watch games. Some guys look like they're running for cover when he gets loose."
And after Jacobs ran over and through the competition, New York had two other backs it routinely handed the ball. Now with Ward gone, Ahmad Bradshaw(notes) is expected to step into the No. 2 job. However, at 195 pounds, Bradshaw is more of a change-of-pace runner.
"We have depth at that position that we like … but I would think Brandon will get some more carries, especially if he can stay healthy," Giants general manager Jerry Reese said.
In 2007, Jacobs missed five games because of a hamstring pull. In 2008, he missed three games late in the season with a knee injury. That contributed directly to a year-end slide by the Giants, who lost three of their final four regular-season games and then were knocked out in the divisional round of the playoffs by the Philadelphia Eagles.
Now, with Jacobs having a chance to get close to 300 carries this season (he had 219 last season and 202 in 2007), there's greater incentive for him to find a way to stay in the lineup.
"If I played 16 games, which is my goal, stayed healthy and got some more carries to go with that … we have a good enough offensive line, we have good offensive play calling, I could lead the league," he said.
What about a run at 2,000 yards?
"Nah, I wouldn't say that. That's a lot of real estate … what I want is for them to give me more of a chance on third down, show that I can catch the ball out of the backfield," he said.
To that end, Jacobs took up the boxing training earlier this offseason. The goal was to refine his footwork and get quicker in a smaller space.
"Hey, what do you do? You got these four corners, can't get out. You got somebody stepping on your toes the whole way. How do you respond? It betters your thinking, your decision making, all these things," Jacobs said. "It's about what's right in front of you, two feet away from you."
Given his size, Jacobs looks like he would be an imposing heavyweight. Certainly, he thinks so.
"Yeah, I could do it. I could go win a belt," he said. "I would be a pretty good heavyweight. I'd be a heavyweight with the sweet science, that stuff the little boxers do. That's how I would fight as a heavyweight, jab, pull, left hand. I would be slipping, moving my feet. I wouldn't be just mauling like they do now. Sticking and getting the hell out of there, aggravating my opponent because he couldn't get to me.
"But I don't dream about that. I think I could go win the belt and be fine. I would love to make some of that money that they make. To me, football is a little more punishing on your whole body, but I would rather take that than on the brain. [Boxing is] not worth it. I'll go out and play football and take that punishment. I might be in a wheelchair when I'm done, crutches or whatever. But I'll at least be able to think straight. I won't talk with a slur. I'll understand a lot. I don't want to lose my mind."
For now, Jacobs is trying to avoid some of that football punishment as well.