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Backup RBs All Have Their Strengths


The pecking order will be established in the coming months, but in looking at the Packers' backup running backs at present, there's something a little different to like about each one.

At least that's the way running backs coach Edgar Bennett sees it, though Bennett wasn't about to predict at this early stage the role each player might fill.

"All these guys bring something unique to the table," Bennett said about Brandon Jackson, DeShawn Wynn and Kregg Lumpkin. "They're all pretty good football players, they're good runners with good instincts, good vision, and they try to make the most of every opportunity.

"I think we have an extremely competitive group, and I think they'll get better because of that competition."

Here's a quick look at each of the three, including their strengths and what they've been focusing on to improve their games:

Brandon Jackson: Now in his third year out of Nebraska, Jackson may be the most adept in the group at catching passes out of the backfield. The Packers have used him extensively in that role, and he has amassed 46 catches in his two seasons, just two shy of starter Ryan Grant over that same period.

Jackson, a second-round pick as an early entry in the 2007 NFL Draft, has felt comfortable as a receiver in the flat and on screens almost since the day he arrived.

"It was something we did a lot in college," he said. "We ran a West Coast system with coach (Bill) Callahan. I knew a lot when I got here and it was just getting the schemes down and some different wording."

The biggest hole in Jackson's resume is the explosive run. While he has improved at making tacklers miss over the past two years, only two of his 166 career touches (120 carries, 46 receptions) have gone for 20 yards or longer.

But the breakaway runs could be just a matter of time. Despite a long run of just 32 yards last season, he did average 5.5 yards per carry, a nearly 2-yard improvement over his rookie season (3.6).

"More than anything else it's confidence," Bennett said. "He certainly has a good feel for our scheme and his preparation, and I think that helps his confidence level. Obviously as the game slows down for him, he'll be able to take advantage of it."

DeShawn Wynn: Perhaps the best of the bunch at blitz pickup and pass protection, Wynn showed just how valuable he can be in that department last season. Activated from the practice squad just the day before the game in Seattle, Wynn picked up Seahawks safety Brian Russell on a third-down blitz that allowed Aaron Rodgers to connect with Greg Jennings on a 45-yard touchdown pass.

"It's a big part of our offense, and that's one thing the coaches are looking for is who can protect No. 12," Wynn said. "It's all about looking at the defenses and anticipating for the most part what's coming. I was exposed to that in college. When I came here, it wasn't much of a transition as far as reading defenses, but being able to make the block is important too, as well as anticipating."

Wynn has definitely taken advantage of the relatively few opportunities that have come his way in games. In the season finale last year vs. Detroit, he got more than one carry in a game for the first time since Week 6 of his rookie season, and he responded by breaking off a 73-yard TD run and eclipsing 100 yards for the first time in his career.

The week before he also showed he could get the tough yard, getting the call on fourth-and-1 in Chicago and picking up 4.

But the knock on Wynn has been his health. During his rookie training camp, the seventh-round draft pick out of Florida battled all sorts of ailments and didn't practice full-go until the final week. Then he injured his shoulder in Week 7 that season at Denver and was done for the year.

Questions about his durability contributed to his early release in training camp last year, but then he was brought back to the practice squad after the final roster cut and found a way to contribute as the season went on.

"I think the past season and a half, he's done a good job as far as taking care of his body," Bennett said. "That was one of the big issues in the past as far as staying healthy, staying on the field and being available as well as accountable. So I certainly think he has improved in that area and he needs to continue to do that."

Kregg Lumpkin: An intriguing talent with largely unknown potential, Lumpkin actually beat out Wynn for a roster spot in training camp last season as a non-drafted rookie out of Georgia. He got his first opportunity to play in Week 2 at Detroit, and produced, totaling 41 yards from scrimmage on four touches (19 yards on one rush, 22 yards on three receptions).

{sportsad300}But less than two weeks later, Lumpkin suffered a serious hamstring injury that ultimately ended his season just as he was finding a role within the offense. Healthy now, Lumpkin will be fighting for a roster spot once again but may not yet have shown everything he can do.

"It was very hard, but things happen," Lumpkin said of the unfortunate injury. "You learn from each thing that comes to you. It builds character. Every time I look back on it, I just think about where I came from and what I have to do to get better and stay healthy."

Bennett has been most impressed with Lumpkin's instincts and his physical play. But he needs more time to see how those tools can benefit him on the field.

"I'm excited to see him get back out there," Bennett said. "I thought last year he was making good strides, and I'm kind of anxious to see if he will pick up where he left off last year and continue to grow and improve."

The other back in the mix to back up Grant is non-drafted rookie Tyrell Sutton from Northwestern, but because he's finishing school, he hasn't been able to take part yet in the current series of organized team activities (OTAs).

Custom would dictate that all four players are fighting for two backup spots behind Grant, but that's not necessarily set in stone. The fullback competition involving Korey Hall, John Kuhn and rookie Quinn Johnson could play a factor in available roster spots as well.

But no matter how many jobs are available, this close-knit group plans to push one another all the way through training camp. Each has his strengths that will allow him to shine at times, and that makes it all the more fun to compete.

"Oh yeah, it's very competitive -- in the classroom, in the weight room and on the field," Jackson said. "That's how we like to keep it. We're all tight, so if we have something to say, we'll say it to each other, not behind each other's back. That's what a group is. That's what it's all about."

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