Running back James Starks.Photo: Image by Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
GREEN BAY - For the Green Bay Packers, much attention in this off-season has been focused on the running game. Many believe the lack of an effective running game is one of the reasons teams were able to somewhat contain the prolific Green Bay passing game last season.
While the Packers invested second and 4th round draft picks in last April’s college lottery in running backs, former running backs coach Harry Sydney recently told me, “The coaching staff will have to be careful in the way they mix the running game with what the Packers offense does best - pass the football.”
Harry’s point is well taken. The strength of the Green Bay offense is the passing game under the play calling of head coach Mike McCarthy and quarterback Aaron Rodgers. An effective running game most certainly can have a positive impact, but the Packers’ offense must be true to its personality and therein lays the delicate challenge for the coaching staff.
The Packers have stocked their training camp roster with a great diversity of talent at the running back position and - “knock on wood” - at the moment, everyone should be healthy and ready to go when they report on July 25th. But the club needs two or three of these backs to emerge. Last year they had eight different players with at least 10 rushing attempts-talk about running back by committee, that’s running back by an army.
According to the coaches, James Starks has had his best off-season. Starks is an upright runner who has tackle-breaking strength as he showed in the post season run of 2010 when he piled up 315 rushing yards in four games, second in club annals to Dorsey Levens' 316 rushing yards in 1997. But Starks has had well documented injury problems in his career and has played in just 22 of a possible 48 regular season games in his three year career.
Alex Green was selected in the 3rd round of the 2011 draft out of Hawaii. Despite not being 100% off a knee injury that ended his rookie season prematurely, Green led the team in rushing with 464 yards last year. Running backs coach Alex Van Pelt says, “He looks like he is completely back from that knee injury.”
Green is a one cut runner/receiver who is explosive in the open field, especially in the short passing game out of the backfield. Last season he suffered a concussion against Chicago in week 15 and did not carry the football in the post season.
DuJuan Harris was a late season revelation last year he led the Packers in yards per rushing attempt at 4.6. He is short at 5’-8” but not small as he packs a sturdy 203 pounds on that frame. A combination of quickness and power makes him a versatile talent in the Packers backfield. The Packers believe that if needed, he could play the feature back role.
He had a fist-sized cyst removed from a lung this off-season, yet expects to be ready by training camp.
Second round draft pick Eddie Lacy out of Alabama is a physical power back at 5’-11” 238 pounds. He is the biggest of the running backs.
I am anxious to see him when the pads come on because you can only see so much at mini camps without pads. One thing you could see is that he has a nice burst and good feet for a man of his size. Lacy, if he remains healthy, is a legitimate candidate for the lead role. Many draft prognosticators had him as a first round pick, the Packers got him with the 61st pick in the draft (29th in 2nd round).
While Lacy’s game is to break tackles, Johnathan Franklin a 4th round selection out of UCLA is a quick, dynamic runner whose specialty is to make tacklers miss. He broke Gaston Green’s school rushing record with 4,403 yards on 788 carries. Franklin is a very good receiver out of the backfield and could make immediate impact as a third down back.