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Ahman Green: Putting The Green In Green Bay


Ahman Green has already posted career highs this season in rushing, receiving and touchdowns.

By now he's used to it. As he sits at the computer and browses his email, Ahman Green simultaneously fields questions regarding his expanding on-field role with the team. He's answered the same questions over and over, day after day.

There was a time at the start of training camp when he could jog off the field in near anonymity, cruising past the multitude of reporters that could not foresee what the projected back-up tailback and kickoff returner would mean to the 2000 Green Bay Packers.

Then again, only the grim reaper could have predicted the untimely injuries of several players, including starting running back Dorsey Levens, which forced Green into far more early-season action than was anticipated. Since training camp, Levens has been limited by a badly sprained ankle and injuries to both knees, the latest battle wound coming to his right knee in last week's loss to the Miami Dolphins.

In the process, Levens' woes have opened the door for Green, who has responded by becoming the Packers' leading rusher and leading receiver (tied with Antonio Freeman) following Sunday's game with the Tampa Bay Buccaneerss.

The strong early returns have resulted in a rush of media attention. From his weekly local radio show, The Ahman Green and Gold Show, to interviews with national television networks and even a Monday Night Countdown feature that aired on ESPN on November 6, the buzz is growing in favor of the 23-year-old from Omaha, Nebraska. No longer can Green sneak through the locker room without being noticed by reporters.

"Sometimes it's too much," he says of his new-found following. "I'm not a guy that gets caught up in it. I'm just out there playing. It can be more of a bad thing than a good thing to have everybody wanting to interview you because if the opposing defense sees you on TV all the time, they'll say, 'I want to hit this guy. I want to knock him out of the box.' But I know that's part of the game. I'm on a different level now. It's not like it was in high school and college. We're in a glass bowl in the NFL, and everybody's watching us. That's how it is, and I have to adjust to it."

His greatest adjustment to date may have come in finding his way to Green Bay. Seven months ago, Wisconsin was the farthest place from Green's mind.

After his second season with the Seahawks, he was assured in a January meeting by Seattle head coach Mike Holmgren that he would be given an opportunity to push starter Ricky Watters for the running back job.

Up to that point, he had seen limited duty on offense and waited patiently for a chance to play on a consistent basis, all the while performing as Seattle's primary kickoff return specialist. He returned a total of 63 kicks in his two-year stint with the Seahawks, and his 22.7-yard average in 1999 ranked sixth in the AFC.

"I've come a long way," says Green. "I appreciate my time in Seattle because I learned a lot there. Coming in under Ricky Watters, who's a great back, it was rough at the beginning not being the main guy there, but it was nothing that I wasn't accustomed to. Through little league, high school and even college, I was always the second guy at running back. It was adjusting to the NFL life that made it a little bit rougher -- on my own, taking care of things by myself, having to be a man so quick in Seattle."

The Seahawks drafted Green just two months after his 21st birthday. Following three of the most successful seasons ever by a running back at the University of Nebraska, he elected to forgo his senior year, citing a number of reasons to enter the NFL at the time.

The owner of two 1,000-yard seasons and one for over 900 yards in an injury-plagued sophomore campaign, he won two national championships with the Cornhuskers and moved to second place in the school's all-time record books with 3,880 rushing yards and 42 touchdowns.

Academically, he earned Academic All-Big 12 honorable mention in his sophomore season and remained on track to graduate. Now 46 credit hours from a degree in geography, he's taken correspondence courses each of the last two offseasons and tentatively plans on returning to the Lincoln, Neb., campus in the spring to attend classes while conducting his offseason workouts.

"Regardless of what I do and how long I play, I'm always going to finish that," says Green. "Every year since I've been in the league, I've kept that promise."

Knowing that his playing window as a pro would be limited, he made the tough decision to leave.

"Football is a sport where you don't get a lot of chances to go out and show what you can do when you're healthy," he says. "You're always beat up. I know my body is not going to last forever, so I thought I better go and do what I can while I'm in the best shape of my life. At the time I was just turning 21, and I figured I could go until I was 30. That's nine, ten years right there, and that's a good career. Hopefully, God blesses me and my body holds up, and I can do that."

After being selected in the third round of the 1998 draft (76th overall), he spent two years wetting his feet for what he hoped would be a headfirst dive into a key role with the Seahawks. Then, he was given news that he never expected.

On April 15, while celebrating his daughter's third birthday in Florida, Green received a call from his stepfather in Seattle. He was told the Seahawks were trying to locate him to inform him that he had been traded to the Packers for cornerback Fred Vinson in a draft-day deal that also included two late-round draft choices.

"I was always in tune to how the NFL works," Green insists. "It was more shocking than anything because of what I was told earlier.

"But once I got here, it was a blessing because I wasn't overwhelmed. I took everything that was put in front of me with a grain of salt. From then on, whatever I did, I practiced hard. Throughout minicamp and training camp, I took my bumps and bruises, but kept fighting forward. In football, that will always pay off, so that's what I've done."

The transition has been rather smooth, but Green's had help along the way.

Green married his high-school sweetheart, Shalynn, this past June after a six-year courtship. Together with their daughter, Ahmani, the young family has tackled every obstacle in their path.

"Regardless of the trade, we were going to get married in June," he says.

"Everything went off fine. It makes everything else a whole lot easier to have somebody like her. We've been together since high school, and so we know each other inside and out. We know everything about each other. That makes it a lot easier on both of us and helps us in taking care of our daughter and raising her right."

He credits his family for helping him take on a tremendous amount of responsibility at such a young age and contends that his production as a player has directly benefited from the quick maturing process.

Through eight games, he has rushed for 406 yards on 89 carries, a 4.6-yards-per-carry average that ranks fifth in the NFC among running backs, and his 28 pass receptions trail only wide receiver Antonio Freeman for the team lead.

A rare combination of speed and power provide him with an explosive burst at the line of scrimmage and has led quarterback Brett Favre to coin Green "Little Bo" after former Los Angeles Raiders running back Bo Jackson.

Running backs coach Kippy Brown likewise praises his young pupil for contributing multiple dimensions to the Packers' system. The astute coach of 21 years knows the value of having depth in the backfield and sees a bright future for Green.

"Ahman is a very powerful guy," Brown says. "He has good size. He's around 220 pounds (217) and he's very powerful. He's a strong guy, and he runs through a lot of tackles. He's got deceptive speed and quickness. Size and speed is a good combination for a back, and he has both of those. When he gets that momentum going, he's hard to bring down with an arm tackle."

Green, a self-described "slasher" in running style, says that the key is learning to use his sundry abilities at precisely the correct moment.

"You can use your speed out there and just get killed multiple times," he says. "Speed has to be used at the right time. I make sure I read my blocks first before I use my speed. I run with my blocks as far as they can take me, and then when I can't get any more blocks, I put in my speed and power."

Never was his power more critical than in the fourth quarter of Green Bay's matchup with the San Francisco 49ers on October 15. Faced with a third-and-goal at the one-yard line, the Packers' next play called for Green to rush straight up the middle and over top of the line. When he leaped to clear the massive pileup, he found his path clogged with defenders. Having the presence to come down with his feet still churning, Green turned to the right, lowering his shoulder and bowling through two defenders to the goal line.

The second effort keyed a three-point victory and was the post-game talk of the Packers' locker room.

"My adrenaline was going," recalls Green. "It was strength, power and just wanting it. A couple plays before that snap, Brett said in the huddle, 'Alright, we just have to put it in.' One play before the touchdown, I almost scored, but got stopped just short. The 49ers defense was talking all sorts of stuff. I'm the wrong player to do that to because I love it. I love it when the defensive player snaps off and says, 'You're not going to do this, you're not going to do that against us.' That just makes me go and do it. It makes me want to just put it right down their throat and into the end zone on them."

That winning attitude and his physical skills have garnered not only a nickname, but also genuine respect from the veteran quarterback, who like others knew little about the running back before the April acquisition.

"I didn't know Ahman Green before we traded for him," admits Favre.

"I knew who he was, and I knew he played for Seattle and didn't get to play very much. Ahman's really a young guy, especially when it comes to this offense. He has great speed -- I think we all know that -- and tremendous quickness. But what we're seeing is that he's able to use it in the correct way. He's patient with his blockers.

"He's not as big as Dorsey, and he's not as powerful. But when you're as small as he is and have that much speed -- and he's a strong guy -- he hits those holes so quick and so low, before guys get a hand on him he's through there, and that makes a difference. You can see that just dumping the ball off to him on passes makes a difference. He's past linebackers right away. I'm not surprised by what he's done, but what I am surprised by is how well he's picked it up."

In a perfect world, Levens and Green coexist in the same backfield, keeping defenses off-balance by subbing interchangeably and occasionally lining up together. Green's progress has allowed the Packers, who also boast veteran fullback William Henderson, to have a package that puts the two tailbacks behind Favre at the same time.

Green Bay has learned this season, however, that the world of football is not always perfect, and Levens' status has forced his counterpart to step into the spotlight earlier than the team anticipated.

"In the National Football League, you can't have too many tailbacks because sooner or later, one's going to get nicked," Brown says. "You have to have a quality backup to go in and be able to handle it, and he's certainly done that.

"Ahman has truly, truly excellent potential. He's got good hands, and he's a good pass receiver. He's a good pass protector, and he's an excellent athlete and a runner. That's a good combination. He just needs to play, and I think he'll get better and better. He's still young."

He's ripe with promise, and if this season's first ten games are any indication, Green is budding before our eyes. If you've missed it, just tune in to any number of highlight shows, and he's sure to be there. He can't avoid the attention any longer.

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