As Packers' offense evolved, so did Dorsey Levens' career

Originally a fullback, he became an all-around producer from the backfield

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Former Packers RB Dorsey Levens

Dorsey Levens

  • Inducted: 2009
  • Running Back: 1994-2001
  • Height: 6-1; Weight: 230
  • College: Notre Dame, 1989-90; Georgia Tech, 1992-93

Honors:

  • Pro Bowl Selection (played since 1950): 1997

Although miscast early in his career and doomed by injuries at the end, Dorsey Levens checked all the boxes for what teams were looking for in a featured runner in the evolving backfield sets of his era.

He was a big back with deceptive speed, good vision and a knack for slipping tackles. Versatility was another of Levens' virtues. As a receiver, he had soft hands and caught the ball with ease. As a blocker, he was reliable on blitz pickups.

"Dorsey Levens has such potential, it's scary," Harry Sydney, his running backs coach for five seasons, once said. That said, it took time to tap into it.

In the 1994 draft, the Packers selected LeShon Johnson in the third round, hoping he'd fill their glaring need for an explosive, No. 1 back. During the previous season, Darrell Thompson was their leading rusher with a mere 654 yards and a 3.9 average per carry. Johnson stood 5-foot-10½, weighed 206 pounds and had been clocked at 4.45 in the 40-yard dash. He also had led the country in rushing in the fall of 1993 with 1,976 yards and finished sixth in the Heisman Trophy voting playing for Northern Illinois.

Levens was picked two rounds and 65 players later as a fullback or possibly a combo back. And that's what Levens was for two-plus seasons.

As a rookie, he backed up Edgar Bennett at fullback, while unrestricted free agent Reggie Cobb played halfback and was even less productive than Thompson a year earlier. Johnson was Cobb's backup and never panned out. In 1995, Levens beat out William Henderson to become the starting fullback, but he functioned largely as the lead blocker for Bennett, who had moved to halfback, and as a checkdown option in the passing game. Levens had 48 catches that year compared to 36 rushing attempts.

In 1996, Levens lost his fullback job in training camp to Henderson, a superior blocker, and saw limited action as Bennett's backup at halfback through the first 12 games, never rushing for more than 48 yards.

Then bingo! Levens' career took off. Coach Mike Holmgren reworked his offense at that point in the season and thrust Levens into a more featured role. While Bennett played mostly in two-back and two-tight-end formations, Levens replaced him in three- and four-receiver sets, where he was often the lone back behind the quarterback. Over the final four regular-season games and three playoff games, Levens carried 80 times for 462 yards, a dazzling 5.8 yards per carry, as the Packers won Super Bowl XXXI and their first NFL title in 29 years.

In their NFC Divisional playoff, played in the rain and mud at Lambeau Field, Levens and Bennett combined for 32 carries and 126 yards. The next week, in the NFC Championship at Lambeau, Bennett and Levens combined for 187 rushing yards. Bennett led the way with 99 on 25 carries, while Levens produced the big plays. He rushed for 88 yards on 10 carries and contributed 117 yards on five pass receptions. Included was one for 29 yards and the Packers' first touchdown, and another for 66 yards on a screen pass that led to another touchdown late in the third quarter and a commanding 27-13 lead.

In the Packers' Super Bowl victory over New England, Levens led them in rushing with 61 yards on 14 attempts and also caught three passes for 23 yards.

His performance in those three games, especially against Carolina, brought high praise from his coach. "He was special in a special game," said Holmgren. "Performances like that in games like this – I really believe the cream rises to the top in important games."

In 1997, Levens had his best year as the Packers made another run to the Super Bowl, where they lost to Denver. As the starting halfback, following a season-ending injury to Bennett, Levens rushed for 1,435 yards on 329 carries, a 4.4 average, and finished third in receptions with 53 for a seven-yard average. He also scored 12 touchdowns. In three postseason games, he averaged 105 yards rushing.

From an individual standpoint, the highlight of Levens' season was breaking one of the most coveted of all team records. On Nov. 23, he rushed for 190 yards on 33 attempts to break Jim Taylor's 36-year-old, single-game rushing record of 186 yards. Levens gained 145 of his yards against the Cowboys in the second half.

"Middle of the third quarter, the fourth quarter he really starts wearing people down," Sydney once said. "What you notice with Dorsey is that one time he'll run through you and the next time he'll run around you, so by late in the game you're not really sure and if (a defender) hesitates, he's got 226, 230 pounds wearing him down."

Levens had another big year in 1999, rushing for 1,034 yards and catching 71 passes.

Otherwise, three of his final four seasons were mostly marred by injuries. In 1998, he suffered a lower leg injury in the second game – following a 44-day holdout – and missed nine games. In 2000, he missed 11 games with injuries to both knees and an ankle. In 2001, he played behind Ahman Green and rushed for only 165 yards, although he averaged 25.9 on kickoff returns.

The Packers released Levens following that season, but he played another three years with Philadelphia and the New York Giants, never rushing for more than 411 yards.

In his eight seasons with the Packers, Levens rushed for 3,937 yards, averaging 3.9 per carry; caught 271 passes, averaging 7.7 per catch; and scored 44 touchdowns. He also played in 14 postseason games, rushing for 647 yards with a 4.5 average.

Born May 21, 1970. Given name Herbert Dorsey Levens.

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