Davenport Getting Back In A Groove

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It's impossible for Najeh Davenport to know what role he will have when the Packers open the regular season on Sept. 10.

He could be the team's No. 2 tailback backing up Ahman Green, provided Green can fully recover from the torn quadriceps tendon he sustained last season.

If Green isn't back to full strength, Davenport could be starting in his place. Or he could be part of a tailback-by-committee approach along with Samkon Gado and Noah Herron, depending on how the rest of the preseason unfolds.

Whatever the role, which could include returning kicks as well, Davenport is pleased just to be on the field for now after coming back from reconstructive ankle surgery.

"Just getting back in a groove," he said after missing nine months from a broken ankle suffered on Oct. 9 last season against New Orleans. "I'm practicing and that's the most important thing. You make plays and you go from there."

Davenport was held out of the mini-camps and organized team activities (OTAs) in the spring as a precaution, and his snaps in training camp have been limited thus far. He sat out Sunday morning's practice as a precaution but was expected to participate in Sunday evening's full pads workout. Like many players coming back from a serious injury, he may rest one practice on days when two are scheduled.

After the injury against the Saints, which occurred in his first two-touchdown game as a pro, Davenport resumed running in February, and with the help of weight training and other rehab he's at full speed when he's on the field now.

"The big difference between February to now is that I've got more explosiveness," he said. "Ever since February, I've been working on power cleans and squats, getting my explosiveness back."

That was noticed right away Friday night in the opening practice.

"It was good to see him back out there," General Manager Ted Thompson said. "He's a big man and a very good downhill runner. He sees holes pretty good. I saw him make some pretty nice cuts, and he looked comfortable catching the ball. He looked fine."

The broken ankle was just the latest in a long line of injuries that have forced Davenport to miss 25 games in his four-year career. When healthy, he's developed a reputation as a bruising runner because of 6-foot-2, 250-pound frame and upright running style.

It's up for debate whether that style has made him more susceptible to injury, but there's no question he gives opposing defenses a different animal to tackle.

"I'm a different type back than the rest of the guys," Davenport said. "For me, getting low doesn't do as good as AG getting low or Sam getting low or Noah getting low. They get low with the intention of getting underneath hits and people's shoulder pads. I'm 6-2, 250, and me getting low really wont' do as much damage as me trying to run through somebody."

The coaching staff wouldn't mind seeing Davenport lower his pads more when he runs, but they also recognize it isn't natural for him.

"You want all your ball carriers to run with a low pad level," Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. "Everyone is built differently and he's obviously a big man. There aren't too many people who will be jumping in front of him. Pad level is a daily emphasis at any position you play, but I've been very impressed with him. That's the first time I've been around him live."

Obviously Davenport hopes his run of injuries is finally over, and he's going about each play as though his repaired right ankle is no different than his left.

"All my mental blocks disappeared in '98 when I did my knee (at the University of Miami) and I came back," he said. "I've been through the pains with that, the mental block. You don't favor it, don't attempt to favor it, don't think about it."

McCarthy has indicated he'd like to have four solid running backs because of his commitment to the ground game. Having returned to the field for the start of camp, Davenport has plenty of time for his workload to increase and solidify his role on the team, whatever that may be.

"It's a big camp to show people, coaches and teams I'm still who I am," he said.

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