Early one day in training camp, rookie running back Trenton Cannon got the ball and rounded the corner of the defense and flew down the sideline.
“They got a Ferrari back there,” said Antonio Cromartie, the former Jets cornerback who is serving as a coaching intern this summer.
A Ferrari is a good comparison for Cannon, who has turned heads in training camp with his speed. He was one of the stars of Saturday night’s Green-White Scrimmage at Rutgers with his quickness on display. He ran for 50 yards on 10 carries and had two catches for 13 yards. His most impressive play may have been a blitz pickup he made that allowed Sam Darnold to throw a 30-yard pass to Neal Sterling.
As the Jets search for a third running back with Elijah McGuire sidelined because of a broken foot, Cannon is emerging as the leading candidate.
“We know he’s fast,” coach Todd Bowles said. “He’s got a chance to make some plays and he’s fast so it will be great in preseason games.”
The Jets drafted Cannon in the sixth round this year, taking a chance on the 185-pound back out of Division II Virginia State. They liked him as an option to fix their kick-return game, but Cannon has also shown some ability early in camp as a back.
There is no debating the speed of Cannon, who ran a 4.4 second 40-yard dash with a 1.49 10-yard split before the draft. The question will be how he handles contact when the preseason games start. He is a small back who lasted until the sixth round for a reason. There are questions about whether he can break tackles.
So far, he has impressed his Jets teammates.
“That dude’s fast,” linebacker Darron Lee said. “He might be a buck eighty on a good day, but that dude is fast. You better make sure you get the edge on him because he’s got some wiggle to him, too. It’s more than just straight-line speed. I like his work ethic.”
The 5-foot-11 Cannon started his career at Shepherd University, but played just six games there in 2014. He transferred to Virginia State the following year and led the team in rushing with 1,178 yards and nine touchdowns. He was first-team All-Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association in 2016 with 1,214 yards and 18 touchdowns. He also had a kick return for a touchdown that year. Last year, he finished third in Division II in rushing with 1,638 yards and 17 touchdowns. He also had 21 catches for 225 yards and three scores and returned two kickoffs for touchdowns.
At the moment, the Jets look like they are in good shape with Bilal Powell and Isaiah Crowell as their top two running backs. But they were counting on McGuire being a nice change-of-pace back. He will be out for at least a month. Cannon might be able to slide into that role.
“Cannon looks really good, man,” wide receiver Jermaine Kearse said. “Every time he hits the edge it’s like he hits the corner so fast. He’s explosive and he makes plays out there.”
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