As expected with draft choices, many eyes already are on rookie sixth-rounder James Starks, who is coming off a shoulder injury that cost him his senior collegiate season but who was highly productive before then. Non-drafted rookie Quinn Porter, who also is getting a look as a punt and kick returner, appears to be another intriguing prospect for the job.
Don’t forget about Kregg Lumpkin, however. Having spent most of his rookie 2008 season injured and then all of last year on the practice squad, Lumpkin is sort of the forgotten man in the backfield as training camp approaches.
But he’s OK with the lack of outside attention for now, because no one noticed him much as a rookie two years ago when he battled his way to a spot on the 53-man roster. It’s worth mentioning, though, that during last month’s OTAs and mini-camp, Lumpkin was the back getting some snaps with the No. 1 offense when Grant and Jackson were getting a breather, and if that continues in training camp, it bodes well for his chances of making the roster again.
“I’m just hopefully building a trust factor with the coaches and the first-team offense,” Lumpkin said. “That’s a good thing for me, to keep (a) low (profile) and just go out there and do my job.”
Job one for Lumpkin is staying healthy, and he’d be the first to say it. He wasn’t drafted coming out of Georgia primarily because he sustained two season-ending knee injuries in his college career, the second one coming midway through his senior campaign.
Then after becoming the surprise inclusion on the Packers’ 2008 roster as a non-drafted rookie, he injured a hamstring in Week 3, re-aggravated the injury two weeks later in practice and was placed on injured reserve.
But it’s the potential on display when he was healthy that has kept him around thus far. His rookie year, he led the Packers in rushing during the preseason and then made the most of four opportunities to get his hands on the ball in Week 2 at Detroit.
He caught three passes out of the backfield for 22 yards, including a 12-yarder to set up first-and-goal and an eventual touchdown. He also ripped off a 19-yard run on his lone carry, setting up another score.
Running backs coach Edgar Bennett is quick to praise Lumpkin’s running instincts and soft hands as a pass-catcher, calling them his most natural attributes. It’s just been a matter of staying healthy enough to show them on a daily basis, and the good news is Lumpkin is the healthiest he’s been in some time, having gone through all of 2009 on the practice squad and all of the 2010 offseason program without any setbacks.
“This kid is talented, and this kid is committed,” Bennett said. “We’re talking about a guy, to be quite frank, who hasn’t missed a day. In the offseason workout program, he hasn’t missed a beat. You root for guys like that.”
The improved health isn’t just luck, either. Over the past two years, Lumpkin has learned more about proper nutrition and body maintenance, and he has put that knowledge to good use. As Lumpkin said himself, now he just has to “stay on top of it.”
It didn’t result in a roster spot in 2009, but that year on the practice squad has put Lumpkin in position to make another run at the 53-man roster this summer.
Lumpkin’s work on the practice squad helped him in three ways. First, he used the time to learn the Packers’ offense in greater detail than he had previously, and a stronger mastery of the offense has given him more confidence as he executes different assignments.
Second, as the scout team running back, he’d spend much of the regular-season practice week imitating the opposing team’s No. 1 backfield threat, a job that he took seriously enough to spend time watching additional film of players like Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson. By studying other top backs, he has inevitably added some little things to his game that can only help as he continues to develop as a pro.
“This kid loves to go out there and compete, day in and day out, and that’s the bottom line,” Bennett said. “Being a scout team guy, he understood what was at stake. His role was to make that defense better, help them get prepared for the runner they were going to face that week, and he took pride in that.”
Third, he also took pride in improving his pass-protection skills, which were tested plenty by picking up defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ blitzes on a regular basis. It wasn’t glorious duty by any means, but it was another way he used scout-team work to become more proficient in a very key area.
“All those practices, he got unique experience by going up against our defense, our No. 1s,” Bennett said. “It was a rare opportunity to get that type of quality work, and it helped him grow and helped him get better, not only to understand the protection schemes but also why it’s so important to use certain techniques we’re asking him to use and being fundamentally sound.”
Now it’s just a matter of putting it all together – the good health, greater comfort with the offense, and improved skills as a runner, receiver and pass blocker – to do what he did two years ago, and make this team when no one was really paying attention to him.
“I approach it as if I’m still a rookie, which kind of I really am,” he said. “I try to stay in the books, stay in my notes, stay in the practice phase. I’m trying not to think about the mistakes and feeling confident about what I’m doing.”
Physically, Lumpkin is a more developed pro, but mentally he’s still very much the same guy he was in 2008. That combination could be just his ticket in 2010.
“He has a great attitude and when I say great attitude, I mean he’s always positive,” Bennett said. “That’s ‘Lump.’ He loves to practice, and when you have a guy like that, it’s just a matter of time. He’s going to continue to get better and good things are going to happen.”