A lot of numbers jump off the page with running back Alex Green – 18 touchdowns his senior year at Hawaii, 8.2 yards per carry, a school-record 327-yard game.
He ran to daylight, a lot.
What jumped out to Packers running backs coach Jerry Fontenot was what happened when that daylight vanished. That had as much to do with Green Bay drafting Green in the third round on Friday night as any of his statistics.
“When you watch him on film, what stood out is when he got hit a couple times downfield, big hits, and he popped right back up and got back in the huddle,” Fontenot said of the 6-0, 220-pounder, whom the Packers took with the 96th overall pick. “Guys rallied around him. They appreciated his toughness.”
Make no mistake, Green’s Hawaii teammates appreciated his production, too. Running for 1,199 yards in a pass-happy spread offense is no small feat.
Hawaii hadn’t seen a thousand-yard rusher since 1992.
“I didn’t know how much they would use running backs, but once I got there, I became a part of their offensive system,” Green said. “It worked out great for me.”
Green made the transition from a traditional I-formation back at Butte Community College in Oroville, Calif. – the same junior college quarterback Aaron Rodgers attended – to a spread back at Hawaii rather seamlessly. His soft hands helped, as he added 27 receptions for 363 yards last year.
He admitted he had a problem early on with fumbling when he got to Hawaii in 2009, but he’s convinced he’s licked it.
“I had high pad-level issues, so I worked on that quite a bit and got that fixed,” said Green, who played with Rodgers’ brother, Jordan, at Butte. “I worked on that problem as much as possible.”
Fixed or not, he’ll be drilled on ball security just like any other offensive player in Green Bay. Fontenot, who has taken over for Edgar Bennett as running backs coach this year, promised as much.
“Anytime we bring players in that’s absolute job one – I got that from coach Bennett,” Fontenot said. “You can’t win in this league without holding onto the football. The stats show that year in and year out. Regardless of the player, regardless of history, regardless of the past, that gets coached up with everybody.”
He’ll get his share of pass-blocking and blitz pick-up drills, too, which weren’t frequent assignments for a back that ran a lot of checkdown routes.
As with any runner, though, there are elements that can’t be coached. Green showed plenty of instincts and vision, particularly in rushing for 327 yards on just 19 carries late last season against New Mexico State. That broke the school record by 57 yards and ranks third in Western Athletic Conference history behind some impressive names – TCU’s LaDainian Tomlinson (406 vs. Texas-El Paso in 1999) and San Diego State’s Marshall Faulk (386 vs. Pacific in 1991).
“He’s a guy that is obviously worthy of them giving him some shots with the football even though they were such a prolific passing offense,” Fontenot said. “He’s a guy that with his work ethic, his ability, he’s going to make himself shine.”
He’ll have to fight for the spotlight at his position in Green Bay. Ryan Grant will be coming off a season-ending ankle injury but topped 1,200 yards in 2008 and 2009. Sixth-round draft pick James Starks emerged as a go-to running back in the Packers’ postseason run last year as a rookie.
So, is a backfield that didn’t have a true featured runner until the playoffs a season ago suddenly too crowded? Not to Fontenot. Big numbers or not, there was too much to like on that film.
“In this league you can’t have enough good running backs,” Fontenot said. “Pretty much running-back-by-committee is blanketing the league right now, and we’re no different than any other team. We’re happy as heck to have Alex Green on our team.”