The Packers aren’t inclined to have one workhorse running back.
Head Coach Mike McCarthy has said that repeatedly, that he’s not interested in pounding the same running back at the defense 20-25 times per game.
He stuck to that philosophy in sharing the carries throughout last season between, primarily, Ryan Grant and James Starks. The most carries either back had in one game was 17 (Grant in Chicago in Week 3), and beyond that the highest for either player was 13.
So, with Grant unsigned, Starks healthy and McCarthy presumably looking to distribute the workload once again, the key question heading into 2012 is obvious. Who’s going to be the other guy?
The leading candidates would be the pair of second-year backs who made strong, albeit brief, impressions as rookies in 2011 – Alex Green and Brandon Saine.
Green, a third-round draft pick in 2011 from Hawaii, was just starting to work into the running back rotation last year when he suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 7.
There’s no way to know how soon any player will feel fully recovered from reconstructive knee surgery, but Green has been targeting the start of training camp for his return since the beginning.
He sat out all of the OTAs and minicamp practices as he continued to rehab. At the start of camp, it will be nine months since his injury, and McCarthy’s policy has been to limit players in training camp when they’re coming back from significant injuries, so how quickly Green can get ready for the season remains to be seen.
Saine was an undrafted rookie out of Ohio State last year who began the season on the practice squad and was signed to the active roster when Green got hurt. Over the final month of the season, he started to get the ball more, enjoying two games in which he had at least six carries and three receptions in each.
During spring workouts, McCarthy referred to Saine as the “most consistent” of the team’s backs. Whether the team’s running backs coach has been Edgar Bennett (2005-10), Jerry Fontenot (2011) or now Alex Van Pelt, the top priorities at the position have been ball security and protecting the quarterback, so McCarthy’s comment may mean he sees Saine as the most sure-handed and assignment-sure (in terms of blitz pick-ups) back on the team.
In any event, the fact that the Packers didn’t draft a running back in April, perhaps, was an indication they’re confident in both Green’s recovery and Saine’s continued development.
The Packers did bring in two undrafted rookies, though, in USC’s Marc Tyler and Minnesota’s Du’ane Bennett. Neither player had eye-popping stats in college and they have yet to put pads on as pros, but the offseason program will have them further along in their playbooks than any of the rookies last year, who were locked out until camp began.
At fullback, the Packers enter camp with three – fan favorite John Kuhn, former practice-squad player Jon Hoese, and undrafted rookie Nic Cooper from Winston-Salem State.
Kuhn remains the all-everything guy who can lead block, pass protect, catch checkdown passes and carry the ball, both on the goal line and anywhere else it’s needed. Oh, and he’s a leader on special teams, too.
Whether the Packers keep more than one fullback on the roster will likely depend on the numbers at the other skill positions. Cooper made a solid first impression during OTAs, and he certainly looks the part at a squat 5-10 but bulky 249 pounds.