The Green Bay Packers, whose backfield has been riddled with injuries over the past few weeks, got some good news Thursday as Najeh Davenport returned to the practice field. Thursday's Thanksgiving morning workout also marked the second day of on-the-field training for recent signee James Jackson.
Jackson, a former third round pick of the Cleveland Browns in 2001, was signed Tuesday to provide some depth to the depleted running back corps. His addition brings the total number of tailbacks on the Packers' roster to five, with two more fullbacks on the 53-man squad.
However, four of those seven players - Davenport, Ahman Green, Nick Luchey, and Walter Williams - appear on this week's injury report heading into the Monday night match-up with the St. Louis Rams, and of those four three are questionable, Davenport the only exception as he's listed as probable.
The spate of injuries started two games ago when Davenport was forced out of the Vikings game with a hamstring problem. Then in Houston last week, Packers backs were dropping like flies throughout the first half.
Green went down with a rib injury on the game's first play from scrimmage. Williams, his replacement who was signed from the practice squad before the game to provide cover due to Davenport's absence, left later in the opening half with a sprained ankle. Luchey rounded out the trifecta, suffering a separated shoulder in the second quarter.
The rash of injuries left the Green and Gold with just two men available in the backfield for the majority of the game, third-down specialist Tony Fisher and fullback William Henderson, who stepped up and helped the team in their fourth quarter comeback.
Luchey said he had never seen anything like that in one game and said he might have been forced back into action had another injury occurred.
"With a separated shoulder, had 'Fish' gone out, I would have had to go back in the game and we would have just run all plays to the right and try to protect my shoulder and just go down before somebody could hit me," Luchey said.
"That's how bad it was. I've never seen anything like it with that many injuries to guys at the same position. That took a lot of fight from William Henderson and Tony Fisher being the only guys left to fight through it and help lead us to a victory."
After learning that surgery would not be required for his shoulder, Luchey was eager to get back to work this week, even if the running backs' meeting room is a little crowded these days.
"Right now we've got nine guys in our running back meetings (the seven active players, as well as practice squad members Vonta Leach and Chris Robertson). It's like we're in the offensive line room or something," he said.
"The good thing is Ahman, myself - we all heal fast. They are really surprised with how fast I've been healing with my shoulder. It's coming around so it's a possibility that I could play Monday and that's good news."
Fisher said that he's ready for an increased workload should the Packers still be missing some of their backs and his number is called in the prime time game.
"I've done it before, and I have confidence in myself," said the third-year runner. "I've just got to go out there and instill confidence in the coaches that I can do it.
"My mindset is just being prepared for whatever happens. If I have to start, I have to start. If my role is to go out there and do what I've been doing the past few weeks, that's what it is."
Davenport hopes to be ready to go by Monday after missing his fourth game of the season due to injury. He knows that with Green's situation uncertain, he might have an opportunity to showcase his talent as well.
"That's a good motivator," said Davenport. "You've got to make the best of your opportunities. I've been through this a long time. Right now, I'm about 75-80%, and I've got to make the best of the opportunities given to me Monday night. Right now I'm preparing for it the best way I know how."
Another runner who is doing his best to prepare to be ready Monday night is Jackson, but his readiness will be determined more by mental preparation than physical. He knows how much he'll get to play is going to depend on how well he can absorb the offense.
"I'm not sure, it's up to the coaches," replied Jackson when asked if he will be in action Monday night. "Like I said, my job is to come in and learn these plays and go out and try to do the best I can."
The 5-foot-10, 215-pound back is excited to be in Green Bay and is looking forward to running behind the Packers' physical and talented offensive line. He said that was one of the factors in deciding to come to Green Bay, since he had offers for tryouts from up to seven other teams.
"This is smashmouth football. In Cleveland it was a lot of finesse, but here I think it's a privilege to get a chance to run behind these guys so I'll see what happens on Monday night if I have a chance to get in the game."
Speaking of that line, guard Mike Wahle said that they are confident in any of the team's running backs, should they be asked to block for them.
"With the guys we've got in the backfield, we're very fortunate with this team to have so many guys that are talented back there that more often than not, we don't even realize who's in the football game at the running back position because we're confident they will be able to move the ball - all three or four of those guys, whoever it may be."
Whoever is in the backfield Monday, the Packers are looking to get back to their running ways, control the clock, and register their sixth straight win.