Bye Week Works Wonders For Running Backs


When asked about the health of his team, running back Tony Fisher knocked on the wood paneling of his locker.

But the bye week already provided the Green Bay Packers with a fortuitous break, allowing the running backs a chance to heal up, learn the offense and prepare for the Minnesota Vikings.

"It was great timing," fullback Vonta Leach said.

The timing was particularly helpful for Ahman Green, who missed the New Orleans Saints game on Oct. 9 with a knee/quadriceps injury suffered during the previous game. He ran for the first time during Monday's practice.

"I felt okay out there," Green said. "It's feeling better."

During the bye week, Green went back to his hometown of Omaha, Neb. where he visited with his daughters, Ahmani, eight, and Myahni, three. He also did cardiovascular and strength work to improve his ailing leg.

The hard work paid off. He looked impressive at practice during a two-hour late afternoon practice on Monday, which head coach Mike Sherman deemed the longest post-bye practice under his watch.

"He looked good," running back Tony Fisher said. "He looked real nice and fresh and fast. He looked like the old Ahman Green."

Sherman remained more guarded about Green's health and possible availability for Sunday's game.

"He looked okay," he said. "I'll make a further evaluation on Wednesday when we put the pads on."

If Green cannot go, Fisher likely will start on Sunday. Well-versed in the offense, Fisher has gained 725 yards and started one game (in 2002) during his four seasons.

"Whenever they call my name or number, I know have to be ready," Fisher said. "It doesn't matter if it's the first, the third or the last play. You have to be prepared."

Although Fisher has served as the Packers' third down back and Green is more of a break-the-tackles type of back, the running offense will not alter their styles depending on whether Fisher or Green sees action.

"It really doesn't change our role," Leach said.

Green was not the only running back to benefit from the bye week. It gave ReShard Lee, acquired on Oct. 6, a chance to better learn the offense. He spent at least two hours every day studying the playbook.

Now he has a much better understanding of the passing game and can identify both the route and pass protection as soon as the play is called.

"It's a complete turnaround like 1,000 times over," Lee said. "At least now I know where I'm supposed to be going, what direction I'm supposed to be going. I've got a feel for things."

Despite joining the team three days before the game, Lee rushed the ball seven times against the Saints and returned kicks -- though wide receiver Jamal Jones ended up fielding both kickoffs.

Regardless of who starts, the Packers need their running game to improve. Last year the Packers' 10th-ranked running game averaged 119.3 yards-a-game. This year they have only surpassed 100 yards once -- against the Cleveland Browns on Sept. 18.

Sherman cited the running game -- along with 3rd-down defense -- as the two major areas needing improvement. An effective running game can force a defense to bring a coverage safety down to the line of scrimmage and open up passing lanes. It can also trigger the play-action-passing game.

"Everything we do philosophically stems from the run game," Sherman said. "If people are hellbent to stop the run, these other things can open up."

The running game showed flashes in their last game as the Packers averaged 4.8 yards in the first half before their 35-3 lead caused them to enter clock-killing mode. But Sherman seeks more consistency.

"We've made some [strides]," he said. "But we still have a ways to go."

Although Lee and Fisher expressed their preparedness for major roles in the running game, the Packers obviously hope Green, their franchise back who surpassed 1,000 rushing yards during the last five consecutive seasons returns to action.

Green is cautiously optimistic that he will play, but he may not know whether he can until the weekend.

"I think so," he said. "I have to take it one day at a time."

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