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Earl Campbell: Today’s running backs look average

Earl Campbell, Shana Campbell

Football legend Earl Campbell, left, rides in a golf cart with his daughter-in-law Shana Campbell before an NCAA college football game between Texas and Texas A&M Thursday, Nov. 24, 2011, in College Station, Texas. (AP Photo/Dave Einsel)


Jim Brown grabbed some attention this offseason when he called Browns first-round pick Trent Richardson an “ordinary” running back.

One of Brown’s fellow Hall of Famers doesn’t think Richardson is the only back out there deserving of the label. Earl Campbell told that he doesn’t see any dominant backs in today’s game, largely because of the way the game is played.

“I think it’s because the way the game has changed, to where all of them just look like they’re average backs because they pass the ball so much,” Campbell said. “I don’t think there’s a runner in pro football you could say was like a Jim Brown.”

This sounds a bit like a cranky old man saying things were better in the old days, but Campbell’s not really knocking the backs of today as much as the style of football. You don’t have many backs in the NFL right now who carry a workload remotely like the ones that Brown and Campbell carried back in the day and the shift to pass-happier offenses has also changed line play to focus on pass blocking at the expense of three yards and a cloud of dust. That means teams have a harder time holding onto leads by running out the clock on the ground than they did in the past and, as a result, the league moves more toward passing.

Could some of today’s backs have thrived in the style that Brown and Campbell rode to Canton? Probably, but there doesn’t seem to be a high likelihood that they’ll get the chance in today’s NFL.