Oilers run, by George '95 Heisman winner is heart of offense

September 19, 1997|By David Boclair | David Boclair,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Coach Jeff Fisher envisions a balanced offense for his Tennessee Oilers.

Through two games this season, though, the balance of Tennessee's attack has come from one man: running back Eddie George. The 1995 Heisman Trophy winner from Ohio State has carried 58 times for 322 yards and is responsible for the Oilers being one of only two AFC teams -- the Pittsburgh Steelers are the other -- that have gained more yards on the ground than in the air.

Rest assured, Fisher will not think twice about continuing that trend Sunday when the Ravens travel to Tennessee and take on the Oilers at the Liberty Bowl in Memphis.

"I don't think it takes a genius to see who you have and take advantage of their abilities," Fisher said. "I think our running game will open up the passing game eventually. The game [against the Ravens] will dictate how much more you'll see out of [quarterback] Steve McNair. We might end up throwing 40 times."

McNair did not even throw 40 passes in the first two games combined because neither the Oakland Raiders nor the Miami Dolphins had any success in stopping George, who is well on his way to bettering his 1996 Rookie of the Year campaign. At his current pace, he would rush for 2,576 yards and 16 touchdowns.

"There's no question our passing and running games are evenly balanced," George said. "We can do a lot better. As an offense, we can be as good as we want to be."

Thus far, it has been only as good as Eddie George, who has accounted for 38 percent of the Oilers' points and 45 percent of their total yards.

None of this is new to the club, which until this season resided in Houston.

George is the fourth Heisman Trophy winner to play for the Oilers, following Billy Cannon, the franchise's first draft pick, Earl Campbell and Mike Rozier.

When George rushed for 216 yards against the Raiders in the 1997 opener, he matched Cannon's club record for yards in a game and joined Cannon and Campbell as the only Oilers backs to top 200 in a contest.

In 1980, with Campbell, the Oilers were the NFL's top rushing team.

"There's nothing better than playing smash-mouth football," Fisher said. "It's what our offense wants to be known for, and that's how we're going to win ballgames."

George followed up his Week 1 performance with 106 yards in an overtime loss to the Dolphins.

A year ago, the 6-foot-3, 232-pound back topped 100 yards in only four contests. He never did it three games in a row, a feat he could possibly accomplish this Sunday.

Still, in his first year he gained 1,368 yards, the ninth-highest rookie total ever. In so doing, he joined Campbell, George Rogers, Billy Sims and Barry Sanders as the only players to win the Heisman and then rush for more than 1,300 yards as an NFL rookie.

"Experience makes a big difference," George said. "I'm more aware now of what can possibly happen and just the speed of the players. I learned a lot last season."

Among other things, he learned his way to the NFL end zone. Of his eight rushing touchdowns as a rookie, half came in the final four games.

He has scored a touchdown in both of this season's games. Counting his 1-yard plunge against the Ravens in the 1996 finale, he has scored in three consecutive contests, the longest streak of his career; two more and he will tie Campbell's club record.

Yet Fisher said George's biggest improvement has come in his attitude and conditioning, a theory supported by the fact that the running back has carried the ball on 47 percent of Tennessee's plays in 1997.

"He worked very hard to increase his size and conditioning level," Fisher said.

Added veteran offensive lineman Bruce Matthews: "I think at this point in his career what's most impressive is just his physical size and strength. He's a big, strong guy, and he doesn't seem to get tired."

A Week 3 bye has George feeling refreshed and ready for Sunday's game.

"Any type of rest is good rest," he said.

Even with the week off, George is second in the NFL in rushing. Only New England's Curtis Martin, with 395 yards in three games, has more rushing yards.

At the very least, he seems destined to join Campbell as the only backs in Oilers history to gain 1,000 yards in a season more than once. An NFL rushing title or even 2,000 yards in a season do not seem beyond the realm of possibility.

Pub Date: 9/19/97

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