As long as our star running back is holding out, Javon Ringer is the starter. There's barely been any news out of camp about fourth round pick Jamie Harper, so that shouldn't change in the days leading up to the first preseason game in mid-August. There might be some groans of disapproval coming from the general public about the fact that the starter is a fifth round pick with no starts and hardly any meaningful playing time, but I was surprised at how unconcerned I was when it dawned on me that he might be seeing a whole lot of regular season action this year. When I look at Javon Ringer, this is what I see.
First and foremost, Ringer is a good pass catcher out of the backfield. This has been a widely accepted fact since his college days when he was a Heisman candidate with Michigan State. I love the versatility that he can bring to an offense. Mike Munchak expressed interest in running more screen plays this year, and while they would also be awesome to run if Chris Johnson were in the game, but I'm very comfortable with Ringer taking some of the pass catching duties in his stead.
Something else that jumps out at me is the fact that Ringer is used to carrying an offense on his shoulders. In his senior year at MSU, he nearly carried the ball 400 times for the Spartans. Of course, this lead to some well-warranted durability concerns and his knees (torn MCL in 06, torn ACL in high school) still worry me a little bit, but hopefully he won't have to deal with a full season of being overworked. I really look forward to seeing him used on draw plays because of his excellent vision. He doesn't hit the hole as fast as some backs would, but he identifies it extremely quickly and has superb vision. Other than the aforementioned draw play, I'd rather Ringer be used as an outside, off-tackle/sweep kind of player. He's not a very big guy, so running in between the tackles will wear him down quicker than it would other players.
What Ringer lacks in measurable strengths he makes up for in intangible ability. In his years at Michigan State, he was an incredibly productive player. Sometimes you don't know how a guy does what he does, it just happens. This is kind of the way I look at Ringer. He doesn't have many tools that jump out at you immediately, but he's a tough runner and is always looking for the extra yards.
So what should we expect from our young back? Well, if for some asinine reason this contract dispute were to last for an entire year, I think Ringer could step in and be just fine. It's my thinking that finding a guy who can top 1,000 yards from scrimmage in a season is about as easy as it gets given marginal talent and provided they're given the ball at a steady rate and have decent enough run blocking up front. The decent enough run blocking may be a stretch, but the marginal talent and steady rate will both be there, plus I have serious doubts that Ringer will need to be the starter for any significant part of the season, if at all.