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SportsColumnistsBob Glauber

Greene, not LT, will be key for Jets

Shonn Greene #23 of the New York Jets

Shonn Greene #23 of the New York Jets runs for a 39-yard touchdown in the first half against the Cincinnati Bengals. (January 9, 2010) Photo Credit: Getty Images

For all the attention surrounding Thomas Jones' departure and LaDainian Tomlinson's arrival, let's keep one thing in mind. Despite the big-name aura surrounding both, we're talking about the Jets' backup running back job.

I'm not saying the out with one proven veteran and in with another is not an important part of the Jets' roster situation for the 2010 season. But this is not the move that will be the deciding factor in whether the Jets can take the next step in their quest for a Super Bowl.

The player who holds the answer to that question was not a factor in this latest game of musical running backs. Shonn Greene already is on the roster, and he's the guy who will make the Jets' running game go.

Greene is the one who will determine whether the Jets repeat as the league's No. 1 rushing attack and make another legitimate playoff run, or whether they suffer a letdown that is not atypical in a league in which parity still rules the day.

That's not to say the L.T.-for-Jones switch isn't important. It is. The tradeoff will figure not only into what happens on the field but what occurs in the locker room. Jones arguably was the best locker-room guy on the Jets, and that will not be offset easily.

But Tomlinson also was highly respected in the Chargers' locker room, and it's expected that the future Hall of Famer's presence with the Jets will go a long way toward making up for Jones' absence.

Of more immediate concern is what happens on the field. There's no way of telling whether the Jets' belief that Jones' production was about to fall off a cliff will turn out to be true. Or whether their gamble will pan out that Tomlinson will be better than he was last year, the worst statistical season of his career.

Jones (1,402) rushed for nearly twice as much yardage as Tomlinson (730), but he did so behind a line widely regarded as the best in pro football. If Tomlinson can take advantage of the blocking offered by the Jets, there's a chance he'll at least provide a change of pace from the bruising Greene to make the Jets' offense better. And I do think Tomlinson can thrive in a role in which he isn't the feature back, as long as he makes the psychological adjustment from being the go-to guy the first nine years of his career. But approaching age 31 and heading into his 10th season, he is not the force he once was.

Jones, meanwhile, will get a fresh start with the Chiefs, who signed him to a two-year deal. And he no doubt will be eager to prove the Jets made a mistake by letting him go. Same with Tomlinson, who will try to show the Chargers they gave up on him too soon.

But if this season will be another special one for the Jets, it's not going to be about what Tomlinson does. It's all about the guy he'll be playing behind.

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