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Vic Ketchman

Vic Ketchman is a veteran of 40 NFL seasons and has covered the Steelers and Jaguars prior to coming to Green Bay.

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Questions to answer at running back

Posted Feb 2, 2012

Packers.com is examining the Packers roster position by position. In this installment, we look at the running backs.

The Packers’ rush offense fell to 27th in the league in 2011, and that’s likely an issue the team will seek to address in this offseason. They may have no choice but to address their running game because long-time starting running back Ryan Grant is set to become an unrestricted free agent in March. Will the Packers try to re-sign him? Will they pursue new talent at the position? Those are critical questions that’ll be answered over the next three months.

Grant rushed for 559 yards, 19 yards behind the team’s leading rusher, James Starks. Grant averaged 4.2 yards per carry with a long gain of 47 yards, and caught 19 passes for 268 yards, with a long reception of 80 yards that went for a touchdown in the regular-season finale against Detroit. Grant, 29, was durable and dependable in 2011, following a season lost to an ankle injury.

Did he make it all the way back from that injury? Can he get back to the 1,200-yard rusher he was in ’08 and ’09? The answers to those questions will likely determine Grant’s future with the team.

Starks showed flashes of greatness in his second pro season, both as a runner and as a receiver. He was a dominant figure in the team’s Week 2 win in Carolina and appeared to be poised for a big season, but nagging injuries held his play time and production down. In addition to his 578 yards rushing and 4.3 yards-per-carry average, Starks caught 29 passes for 216 yards.

Is Starks ready to become a feature back? Can he stay healthy for a whole season? The answers to those questions will also be applied to the team’s pursuit of talent at the position.

Rookie third-round draft choice Alex Green was dazzling late in the preseason, but his season ended in Week 7 when he sustained a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Green, a punishing runner at 6-0, 225, flashed big-play ability in the preseason, in addition to his between-the-tackles power.

Can Green develop into a feature back? The answer to that question will also be key in the Packers’ plans for the position.

Undrafted free-agent rookie Brandon Saine came off the practice squad late in the season to rush for 69 yards on 18 carries and catch 10 passes for 69 yards. Saine did enough to give the Packers reason to believe he can become a depth player. At the least, he will provide competition at the position.

Veteran fullback John Kuhn fills a role: He’s the Packers’ touchdown-maker, a goal-line wizard that rushed for four touchdowns and caught two touchdown passes. Based on his 30 carries for 78 yards, Kuhn scored a rushing touchdown every 7.5 carries.

Behind Kuhn at fullback is Jon Hoese, an undrafted rookie that spent the season on the practice squad.

Summary—The Packers are a pass-first offense, but a more productive running game would add balance to the offense, help quiet the pass rush and open the passing lanes. It’s expected that the Packers will address the running back position in the offseason. To that end, this year’s draft class of running backs is said to be thin at the top, but deep in talent in the later rounds.

Position-by-position series: Quarterbacks

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