“That’s what I can bring to them,” newly-reassigned running backs coach Jerry Fontenot told packers.com of what his 16 years as an NFL offensive lineman and his five years as a line coach will provide Packers running backs in 2011, which is to say seeing the blocking through the eyes of the blockers.
“Being able to give our running backs a perspective of what the defense is giving you up front,” Fontenot said. “It’ll help them understand where the fits might be and get them to the second level and let them do their thing.”
Fontenot had been assistant offensive line coach but was reassigned by Head Coach Mike McCarthy to running backs coach recently in a staff restructuring that includes long-time running backs coach Edgar Bennett’s new role as wide receivers coach. They are moves that will allow each coach to grow his career and his involvement in the offense.
“Fortunately, he’s still around. He’s my number one resource,” Fontenot said of Bennett. “Mike is about maintaining continuity. In doing so, one of the added benefits is that you have the ability to expand your knowledge.”
Fontenot believes everybody will grow in this restructuring of the offensive staff.
“He’s got a wealth of knowledge. He’s always talking about guys that helped him out: Marty Schottenheimer and Bill Walsh. He’s always thinking and throwing out ideas. He’s always promoting creativity. His basic philosophy is coaches teach and demand and players prepare and perform,” Fontenot added of McCarthy, who places a premium on creativity. Bennett’s and Fontenot’s career moves would seem to be examples of that creativity.
One thing, however, won’t change, and that’s the demand that Packers running backs make ball security their top priority.
“We’re going to run as hard as we ever have, work as hard as we ever have, and the number one job is ball security,” Fontenot said.
He and his backs will have a tough act to follow in 2011, for Packers running backs in ’10 did not lose a fumble; 440 rushing attempts without a lost fumble. That’s true ball security.
Fontenot will have the luxury of what appears to be a deep stable of backs. Ryan Grant is coming off a season lost to an ankle injury and subsequent surgery. He would rejoin Brandon Jackson, whose free agency status is still to be determined, and emerging star James Starks, one of the leading men in the Packers’ late-season charge to the Super Bowl title.
Who will be the starter?
“It’s about competition. You don’t want to say this guy is going to be starting and this guy is going to be a role player. I don’t see any of those guys being labeled a starter. Once we start playing, all of that shakes out. They’re going to determine how much playing time they get,” Fontenot said.
Starks came out of nowhere to set a Packers postseason rookie rushing record.
“He’s got great vision, great strength and he’s got good speed. He did a fine job,” Fontenot said of Starks.
“Brandon is probably the best pass-protector. He averaged 3.7 during the season, which led our team.”
Grant will be dedicated to reclaiming his role as the Packers’ featured ball-carrier. He was coming off his best season as a pro when he sustained his season-ending injury in last year’s season-opener. Grant rushed for 1,253 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2009; he also caught 25 passes.
“He sticks his foot in the ground and he goes and gets it. He’s not fun to play against. He’s going to wear teams down. He likes to get physical,” Fontenot said of Grant.
“In this league, you need to have as many running backs as you can on your team to sustain a 16-game season. Who knows what the new CBA is going to give us? You can’t have enough good running backs.”
McCarthy envisions the running game as an instrument for keeping defenses honest and forbidding them from loading up against the pass and rushing the passer on every down. The Packers’ blueprint is for attacking early, getting the lead and then protecting that lead with the running game.
“We like to pound the ball. It’s about maintaining the lead and controlling the clock; being able to run out the clock,” Fontenot said.
Vic Ketchman is a veteran of 39 NFL seasons and has covered the Steelers and Jaguars prior to coming to Green Bay.