Thin at running back? Packers donâ€™t think so
GREEN BAY, Wis. — As far as Alex Green and the rest of the Packers' running backs have been told, there are no reinforcements on the way. There will be no Ryan Grant, no veteran addition.
Instead, Green Bay will go with a young trio led by James Starks, with Green — who's still recovering from a season-ending torn ACL — and 2011 practice-squad call-up Brandon Saine powering the running game for last season's No. 3 offense.
"I think the coaches feel comfortable with what we got now," Green said Tuesday. "I feel pretty confident going into it, and I think the coaches feel the same way. James Starks is obviously going to be the guy, then Brandon Saine and me will complement him, and (undrafted rookie free agent signing) Marc Tyler, maybe, too.
"I think it's a pretty good group of guys coming into this season."
Given that Grant and Starks split carries last season as Green Bay's featured running back tandem, not re-signing Grant this offseason seems like a risky decision for general manager Ted Thompson. Though it's possible the Packers could still make Grant an offer, all indications are that they won't. In addition to Green's comments, the team has given away Grant's spot in the locker room. Plus, when Grant visited the Detroit Lions and New England Patriots earlier this offseason, it didn't influence Thompson to become any more interested in bringing the 29-year-old running back to Green Bay for another year.
"I like the way James Starks is moving," coach Mike McCarthy said Tuesday when summarizing the team's running back position. "It's nice to see Alex Green out there. Brandon is so consistent; probably the most consistent guy we have back there.
"I think both young free agents (Tyler and Du'ane Bennett) have a chance as far as their movement ability."
Another issue potentially facing the Packers with this current plan at running back is the overall health of the group. Starks, who is entering his third year as a pro, suffered from repeated knee and ankle injuries during the second half of last season, limiting him to just 13 carries in the Packers' final six regular-season games.
"In past years, I happened to get little nicks and bruises here and there, but I'm going to pray on it, and, God willing, have an injury-free year and I'll keep getting better," Starks said.
In the 2011 draft, Thompson selected Green in the third round, perhaps already with the idea Grant wouldn't be around much longer. But as a rookie, Green was third on the depth chart, and in Week 7 he tore his ACL while playing special teams. Though McCarthy indicated Green was about to be given more opportunities in the running game at the time of the injury, his rookie season ended with just three carries for 11 yards.
"I'm feeling good," Green said. "My goal is to make training camp. We'll see how things go as we get closer and closer. Now we're in June, so it's moving along. It's going to be here pretty fast. My main goal is to be ready for that."
Though Green was still not practicing with the team during the offseason training activities and won't be part of mini camp from June 12-14, he has been running, cutting and catching passes out of the backfield while working one-on-one with strength and conditioning coordinator Mark Lovat.
"I've got to work on some things still, but some things I'm past, over the hump and over the hard part," Green said. "Now I just have to work on the fine-tuning."
Even with Grant last season, the Packers' running game was one of the worst in the NFL, finishing 27th in rushing yards. As Aaron Rodgers and the passing offense scored points at a league-best rate, opposing defenses played for the pass and were plenty content allowing Green Bay to run the ball. That is what makes the Packers' poor 2011 rushing stats even more alarming, and there's no telling how much worse things could get without Grant, who ran for more than 1,200 yards with the Packers in both 2008 and 2009.
If Starks, Green and Saine struggle or are banged up — or if McCarthy is just searching for a much different look — John Kuhn could become a more active part of the Packers' rushing attack. However, Kuhn is a true fullback, a 250-pound wrecking ball who has been mostly used in short-yardage running situations. In 2011, Kuhn was given only 30 rushes, which he turned into 78 yards. Rodgers, by comparison, ran twice as often (60 rushes) as Kuhn. So it would seem unrealistic to expect Kuhn to be ready for a 15-carry game should McCarthy need it and even less realistic to expect the results to be positive.
Though the logic behind entering camp with the current group of running backs seems questionable, this appears to be the Packers' plan. So it will be up to Starks, Green and Saine to try to take pressure off Rodgers and make Green Bay's offense a bit less one-dimensional.
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