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C.J. Spiller is having a breakout season for the Buffalo Bills. He’s also having a historic one. ¶ Spiller has been incandescent. He’s averaging 6.62 yards every time he runs. That has been done once this late in a season since 1960. Jim Brown averaged 6.71 yards a carry through 12 games in 1963. ¶ But Spiller’s productivity has created one of the touchiest story lines of the Bills’ season. Despite his explosiveness and gaudy stats, he is averaging only 11.4 carries a game while sharing backfield time with captain Fred Jackson. ¶ Legendary running backs have noticed Spiller’s potency. Barry Sanders recently lauded Spiller as one of the best running backs in the league. ¶ To learn what the all-time greats think of Spiller and how running backs are used in today’s game, The Buffalo News canvassed eight Hall of Fame running backs – a group that encompasses every season from 1952 through 2005. ¶ These are their thoughts.

Floyd Little, NFL’s leading rusher in attempts and yards in 1971: “I was sitting at the 2010 draft with Jim Brown, and C.J. was there. He was all nervous. We talked about the position and the opportunity to go and play in the National Football League. We were very happy for him when the Bills called his name.”

Curtis Martin, five-time Pro Bowler, NFL’s leading rusher in attempts and yards in 2004: “There are certain running backs, when you have played the position, you can just look at and tell they have that ‘it’ factor, and he does.”

Emmitt Smith, NFL’s all-time leading rusher: “He has the speed, once he gets in the open, to turn a 4- to 6-yard run into something much larger. He has the ability to make people miss and take it the distance. That’s an attribute I never possessed, the ability to take it the distance.”

Franco Harris, retired as NFL’s third-leading rusher, on Spiller’s performance the final six games of last season: “There’s always that moment that changes someone. My rookie year, I started slow my first four or five games. I had nothing. Then there was this mental switch of ‘Now I get it.’ When he had to step up and it was his time – ‘Boom!’ – that was his moment, and his whole mind-set changed. Until you have that moment, you’re not quite there.”

Martin, whose No. 28 was retired by the Jets when Spiller ran 14 times for 169 yards in this year’s season opener: “I said to my younger brother, who plays in this big fantasy football league, ‘Listen, whoever can get that guy could win the league. Mark my words. If he can stay healthy, he’ll be one of the best backs in the league this year.’ ”

Little: “His average is unbelievable. I averaged 5 yards, and I’m in the Hall of Fame. He’s been an outstanding back. He’s got all the ability, and when he gets to carry the ball more, everybody will know who he is.”

Lenny Moore, converted flanker and five time All-Pro: “He can’t do it by himself. He can do only what his coaches and teammates allow him to do, and without those guys up front, it ain’t going to happen. Whatever it is they’re doing is allowing him to do the best he possibly can in those given situations.”

Hugh McElhenny, averaged 7.0 yards as a rookie in 1952: “The biggest reason [for Spiller’s 6.6-yard average] is a good offensive line. It’s that simple. They know how to block. If an offensive line can give a good runner some daylight, he’ll do the rest.”

Eric Dickerson, rushed for NFL-record 2,105 yards in 1985: “He’s not a big guy, but he finds that hole. He’s almost like a Barry Sanders. He’s extremely fast and makes quick decisions and can make a guy miss. That’s what makes him so dangerous. It happens in a split second. For a defender, once you start going one way and a guy like him can cut and accelerate, it poses a problem.”

Paul Hornung, led NFL in scoring three seasons, including 176 points in 1960: “He’s the kind of guy you’ve got to give the football to. He’s got that kind of ability to break a play.”

Dickerson: “I don’t think they’re using him properly. It’s like having a great quarterback and asking him to throw seven times a game. I mean, come on.”

Martin: “I never like to question coaching or usage of a player, but I know talent when I see it. He has the potential to be great. If I got a guy averaging 6.6 yards a carry, I’m going to run him until I find out at what point he becomes a 3-yards-per-carry guy.”

Smith: “He needs the ball. You’ve got to put it in his hands 20 times to see what can happen. You’ve got to put him to the test.”

McElhenny: “Almost 7 yards, that’s pretty good, but if you’re carrying 20 times in a ballgame and averaging 7 yards per carry, that’s really outstanding. That’s above what anyone would expect.”

Little: “For a guy to average that many yards is substantial. I think he should carry the ball a hell of a lot more. Just imagine what he could do.”

Hornung: “Let him go. If you give him the ball 20 times and he starts fumbling and he doesn’t break one or two long runs, then what will happen is he won’t get the ball as much. But absolutely they should try. If I were the coach or his offensive coordinator, I would give it to him more.”

Dickerson: “He’s a true back. He needs to have 25 carries, sometimes 30 – not every week, but he needs that so you can get a true assessment of what player he can be. You’re not getting a chance to see the true player at 10, 12, 14 carries a game. How can you?”

Harris: “Running backs have to have more touches to really get into the groove of the game on a consistent basis.”

Martin: “Guys like that, they usually get better with the more carries they get. I would want to give him the ball a minimum of 20, 25 times. I’m sure their coach has insight on trying to keep him healthy, but that’s where you see what a guy is made of.”

Smith: “I know sometimes in the third and fourth quarter, when you’re carrying that ball 15 or 20 or 25 times, you have a tendency to get a little worn down physically, mentally and emotionally, and you open yourself up to injuries.”

Martin: “The difference between ‘good’ and ‘great’ are those guys that can carry the ball consistently 25 times a game.”

Dickerson: “I like when teams feature the back, and they don’t feature him. He could be such a great player if given the opportunity. You can’t make both [Spiller and Jackson] happy. You have to go with one or the other and – same thing with a quarterback – you can’t have two. You have to go with the guy that’s doing it for you. I feel it’s unfair to a back that really wants to play that position and carry the load to not get a chance to really utilize his ability because of coaching or schemes.”

Harris, one of only four sets of backfield tandems to rush for 1,000 yards in the same season: “I’m a big believer of the dual backfield. To me, that kept the defense a little bit more honest, not knowing which way you were going to run the play and with who. I’m surprised more teams don’t go with that.”

Dickerson: “If you ask any back off the record, tell them you won’t write it, but to be honest: ‘Do you like a two-back system?’ He’ll tell you, ‘No.’ … He can’t like it. If he’s a running back, it’s impossible. If he likes that system, then he’s not the back that I think he is.”

McElhenny, part of the famed Million Dollar Backfield: “I never carried more than 15 times in a game. But I was a receiver also. It’s got to be something built up in the character of an individual. I know [Spiller] must have a certain amount of strength. We’ve got some small running backs that are very successful, but they’re 5-10 and weigh 210. They’re built different. There are a lot of variables there.”

Moore: “Whatever the Bills are doing, they know it works. So that’s what you keep doing. The Bills are giving it to him when they know it’s there. That’s why it’s only 10 carries because ‘We know we can do this periodically, and it’ll work.’ So that’s why you’re not going to see the same thing at 20, 25 times a game.”

Hornung: “He’s got a lot better chance of averaging that high when he runs fewer times, of course. Hell, the more you run, the more they’re ready for you. They’ll have more chances to tackle you. You don’t think he’s as good as Jim Brown, do you?”

Little: “If he carries it 25 times on average, he might not be in the 6s, but he’ll be in the high 5s.”

Harris: “Will his average go down? Absolutely, if he touches it 20 to 30 times a game. But he’ll still be effective, and they have to give him that chance to find out.”

Smith: “He is one of those guys you watch and say, ‘He has great talent.’ And if I were him, I’d be saying ‘Give me the ball more.’ ”

Dickerson: “I’m pulling for him. I don’t watch a lot of football anymore, but I do like him. And tell him not to go too hard on my Rams this week.”

Harris: “I think things are going to go really great for him.”

Little: “He’s a great runner. He’s proved that. He’s a quiet running back that doesn’t get the notoriety that a lot of the other running backs do in the league. He’s going to leave his mark before it’s all over.”

email: tgraham@buffnews.com