Jaylen Samuels, like many of the running backs before him, is looking to be a new version of himself entering Year Two. Over the offseason, he talked about slimming down and working with a speed trainer in order to become a more explosive and effective runner. Speaking with the media after Wednesday’s practice, he talked about – and I know it’s cliche but for young guys, often true – being in the best shape of his short NFL career.
“Just showing my conditioning,” he told the media via the team site of what he’s trying to show this spring. “That’s the main thing. Finishing runs. Making the tough catches. Knowing the plays. Playing faster. But most definitely, showing I am in condition. That’s the main thing coming into OTAs. Because we don’t have pads on or anything. We can finish downfield without getting hit.”
It’s unclear what Samuels current or target weight is at. But if he’s like so many others, a 15 pound decrease would place him in the 210-215 range. Coming out of NC State, it was unclear was position the NFL wanted him to play. He was a jack-of-all-trades in college, logging time at receiver, running back, and even a little at tight end. The Senior Bowl had him as a full-time running back but the Combine lumped him in with the tight ends while scouts liked what he did out of the backfield the most. Without a defined position, it was impossible to know what weight to shoot for.
Although you may have forgotten the name, Cameron Stingily, who spent two training camps with the team in 2015 and 2016, was in a similar predicament his first time through. From my interview with him three years ago:
“Coming out of the draft, it wasn’t clear if teams wanted him to play as a fullback or running back. So he kept his weight, 255 pounds. When the Steelers decided to make him exclusively a runner, his performance suffered. He lacked the quickness to break away at the second level. During last fall, he committed to slim down to his junior year playing weight of 230 pounds. By the looks of it, he’s a completely different player than the one who stepped foot onto St. Vincent’s campus a year ago.
“’Last year I was 250 with 12% body fat. This year I came back at 230 with 7%.’”
Stingily never made the roster but you get the principle of the idea. When you know how a team plans to use you, you can adjust accordingly.
“I think I’ll be a better runner this year as a running back,” Samuels went on to say. “Not just catching. And definitely better in pass protection.”
Losing weight means, in theory at least, Samuels will become a more dynamic runner in the open field. Last year, he was a bit of a plodder, only able to bust into the open grass when given a large runway. And though his pass protection was better than expected considering how little he did it in school, it has a long ways to go, too. There though, it has more to do with technique than any weight he’s lost.
Improving conditioning is important for the expanded role he’s going to have. Samuels will be the #2 from the get go unlike his rookie year, where he hardly saw the field until Week 13. In that sense, 2019 will be his first “full” year and with more involvement in the offense, his body has to be ready to handle that rigor.