- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 8, 2014

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) - When the Jacksonville Jaguars introduced starter Toby Gerhart before last week’s game, Gerhart and his fellow running backs ran onto the field together.

They called it a sign of unity.

It also served as a strong visual depicting what the Jaguars’ backfield has become.

It’s running back by committee in Jacksonville, with Gerhart, Denard Robinson, Jordan Todman and rookie Storm Johnson all sharing carries.

The Jaguars (0-5) rank 31st in the league in rushing, averaging 67 yards a game, so the decision to get more guys involved was an obvious one.

Johnson could be the wild card in the rotation. A seventh-round draft pick from UCF, Johnson was inactive the first three weeks because of ankle injury, and although he was active Week 4 at San Diego, he didn’t play. He made his NFL debut Sunday against Pittsburgh, running four times for a team-high 27 yards.

It wasn’t a dazzling performance, but Johnson’s 20-yard run in the third quarter matched the team’s longest of the season (quarterback Blake Bortles) and was the longest for any Jaguars running back.

“It’s not surprising to me,” coach Gus Bradley said. “I mentioned two weeks ago he had a good practice. Last week he had a good week, and it’s that trust and he’s building trust. For him to go in there and perform and really capture his opportunity was pretty cool to see. … The runs he had were very impressive.”

Johnson re-injured his ankle late in the game, but should be fine for Sunday’s game at Tennessee (1-4).

Still in rebuilding mode, the Jaguars might start Johnson at some point. Bradley and general manager Dave Caldwell have gone with several youngsters this season, especially on offense.

Bortles, center Luke Bowanko, right guard Brandon Linder, tight end Nic Jacobs and receivers Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns all started in the 17-9 loss to the Steelers. Rookie linebacker Telvin Smith also got the nod, giving the team seven rookies in the starting lineup.

By comparison, fellow AFC South teams Houston, Indianapolis and Tennessee started one each.

Jacksonville also has five second-year players in its starting lineup, making the Jaguars one of the league’s youngest and least experienced teams.

Caldwell and Bradley believe that if the competition is close between two players, it’s usually best to go with the younger guy, especially if they think he’s got more upside.

“Well, it’s a challenge that we’ve said before that we accept,” Bradley said. “Somewhere down the line these guys can’t be rookies anymore, I believe. I think somewhere they’ve played enough games where they say, ‘All right, let’s go. I don’t want to talk about that anymore’. We understand that.”

Gerhart and the other running backs understand the situation.

Although Jacksonville gave Gerhart a three-year, $10 million contract in free agency to be the No. 1 back, the former Minnesota Vikings backup knew he would be sharing the load this season.

Injuries have made it even more necessary.

Gerhart sprained his right ankle in the season opener against Philadelphia when he was horse-collar tackled from behind. He has been hobbled since. And it seemingly got worse Sunday when he sprained his right foot. He returned to the game, but finished with a season-low four carries for 9 yards, and played just 10 snaps.

“I know that he felt really good going into the game and then early he had an issue,” Bradley said.

Regardless of what happens to the starting spot, the running backs insist it won’t matter because they’re so close. That was evident when they took the field together Sunday.

“We’re just a tight group and we just said, ‘Why not?’” Gerhart said.

Todman said it carried over from last year, when former Jaguars standout Maurice Jones-Drew led the group and got everyone hanging out together. They even nicknamed themselves the wolf pack.

They didn’t get introduced as a group in 2013, but decided to do it Sunday - fitting given the state of the position.

“It was a group decision,” Todman said. “Why not? Let’s do it. It was good to have everybody out there active and able to play.”


AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

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