Anthony Lynn keeps Jets running smoothly

Jets running backs coach Anthony Lynn looks on Jets running backs coach Anthony Lynn looks on from the sidelines during a preseason game against the Detroit Lions in Detroit. (Aug. 9, 2013) Photo Credit: AP

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The running backs have come and gone.

Thomas Jones. Leon Washington. LaDainian Tomlinson. Shonn Greene. Joe McKnight.

Yet consistency remains the hallmark of Anthony Lynn's trade.

Lynn, the Jets' running backs/assistant head coach, guided the team's top-ranked rushing attack in 2009, and since then, the unit has finished in the top half of the league every year except 2011 (22nd). But Lynn is quick to credit his players -- and deflect any of the praise -- for the Jets' ground-and-pound prowess.

"I always have good guys," he said by phone shortly after Friday's practice. "It doesn't matter who you put in my room, it's my job to get it out of them. That's what a coach is charged with, regardless of a kid's ability level."

Amid all the questions about the long-term viability of rookie quarterback Geno Smith and the discussions about Marty Mornhinweg's 30th-ranked offense, running backs Bilal Powell and Chris Ivory are quietly having a strong season.

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Collectively, they're averaging 128.3 yards a game -- good for ninth overall in the NFL. And that's no small feat, considering defenses have stacked the box in an attempt to force Smith (21 interceptions) to throw more.

According to Lynn, Powell is the type of running back "you can leave on the field in all situations."

And Ivory?

"Chris is -- there's no doubt in my mind -- the best power runner in our game today," Lynn said. "I would take Chris Ivory, today, over any back in the National Football League, when it comes to running between the tackles."

Ivory is tied for ninth with Reggie Bush and Marshawn Lynch with six runs of at least 20 yards. He's also tied for third with Adrian Peterson with an average of three yards after contact, according to ProFootballFocus.com.

But Lynn isn't satisfied. There's still two more games left, and that means there are more benchmarks to hit. The playoffs no longer are possible for the Jets (6-8), but they have their sights set on finishing the season at .500. And to defeat the Cleveland Browns at home on Sunday -- and the Miami Dolphins on the road next weekend -- Smith will need Ivory and Powell to be on their game.

"It's been tough with a rookie quarterback. People wanna stop the run and make a rookie quarterback beat you. We know that," said Lynn, a two-time Super Bowl champion with the Broncos and a former running backs coach for the Jaguars, Cowboys and Browns. "So there's been some times where we've had to run uphill, as we say, and I think they've welcomed that challenge."

Lynn never had a doubt about the guys in his meeting room.

Yes, his running backs were unproven. Sure, he had no Pro Bowlers -- or even starters, for that matter. But he nevertheless was confident that the personnel department and coaches had selected "the right group of guys" in Powell, Ivory and the now-injured Mike Goodson.

"I really felt like this could be the best group since I've been here," said Lynn, who joined the Jets in 2009. "I knew we could have had one of the most dynamic and best backfields in the league this year. And deepest."

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Goodson's speed was a welcome complement to Powell's athleticism and Ivory's power. But Goodson's offseason arrest on drugs and weapons charges (and subsequent four-game suspension), coupled with Ivory's early-season hamstring injury, forced Powell to shoulder the load. The third-year back thrived, averaging 16 carries, 72 yards and 4.42 yards per carry in the Jets' first four games.

Then the Week 5 return of Goodson presented Lynn the challenge of spreading the ball around. "I've never been faced with three guys that I felt I could go into a game and win with," he said.

In essence, Goodson's season-ending knee injury (a torn ACL and MCL suffered in Week 6 against the Steelers) simplified things for Lynn. It also gave Ivory, who played his final year of college ball at Ohio's Tiffin University, a chance to prove his value.

"Chris had to step up,'' Lynn said, "and Chris did."

Both Ivory and Powell have lived up to their coach's expectations. But there's no telling how good Lynn's group might have been had all three remained healthy this season. There's also no guarantee that all three (especially Goodson, who could face significant prison time if his criminal case goes to trial) will be back in 2014.

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"We're just waiting to see what happens at the end of the season," Lynn said. "Who knows? We may have these guys back next year. I don't know."

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