Ask Ahman Green about offensive formations, blitz pickups, or route adjustments, and the Packers' running back will have no trouble fielding the questions.
Ask Green about topographic features, atmospheric processes, or spatial organization, and he'll handle those with aplomb, too.
That's because even before Green opened the playbook to study the new wrinkles Packers coach Mike Sherman planned for the 2001 season, Green hit the books at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay this spring to continue working toward his bachelor's degree in geography.
Indeed, the intricacies of the West Coast offense are no problem after analyzing the relationship between humans and their environment.
Green, who left the University of Nebraska following his junior season in 1997, is determined to be back in Lincoln to graduate next spring. (Green's classwork at Wisconsin-Green Bay supplements the credit hours he earned at Nebraska.) His goal is to teach geography to youngsters once his playing days are over.
"I want to teach eighth- or ninth-grade kids, to catch them when they're developing," Green says. "I want to help them when they're at that crossroads, wondering what they want to do with their lives."
Green was at a crossroads last year, wondering where his football career was headed when he was traded from the Seahawks to the Packers on draft day, 2000. Seattle essentially gave up on its third-round draft choice from 1998 after he rushed for only 329 yards and caught 3 passes his first two years.
But by season's end, Green had learned a lot about himself and his abilities after rushing for 1,175 yards and totaling 1,734 yards from scrimmage for the Packers. Lesson number one, ironically, came from incumbent Packers running back Dorsey Levens.
"He told me to be patient, my time will come," Green says.
When Levens was lost for the second half of the season with a knee injury, opponents figured the Packers' running game was finished. Current Green Bay running backs coach Sylvester Croom, who was Detroit's offensive coordinator in 2000, admits as much. But Sherman, who was Seattle's offensive coordinator in 1999, knew what he had in Green.
"Given my association with him in Seattle, I obviously had some inside information," Sherman says. "I felt very confident in his ability."
"I was more shocked than anything when I got traded," Green says. "But the Mike Sherman connection was a big factor in my success, both in terms of him knowing what I was capable of doing and me knowing what he expected from his players. That was a real edge for me when I came in here. It made me a lot more comfortable."
While sharing time with Levens, Green rushed for 93 yards and a touchdown in a week 4 victory over the Cardinals, and had a pair of touchdowns to help beat the 49ers three weeks later.
But it was after Levens's season ended in week 9 that Green really took over. He rushed for 769 yards during the final eight weeks, including a 153-yard effort against Indianapolis in week 12 and a 161-yard outing against Minnesota in week 16. The Packers won six of the eight games.
Green also caught 45 passes during the second half of the season and led the Packers with 73 receptions. He scored 13 touchdowns. He had a 39-yard touchdown run against the Lions, a key 36-yard run against the Colts, and a 28-yard scamper against the Vikings that broke Minnesota's back. But perhaps his most memorable play was one of his shortest runs, a 1-yard touchdown against San Francisco.
On third-and-goal, Green was hit at the line scrimmage. He tried to bounce away, but was hit again and again. Still, he kept his legs moving and eventually scored.
"I think I surprised a few people with that," says Green, who figures to team with a healthy Levens to give the Packers a potent one-two punch in the backfield in 2001. "A lot of people in the NFL didn't know I could be a power runner, but that play proved that I can. I knew all along that if I had to put my head down and run between the tackles, I could."
Sherman knew that, too. It was Sherman who suggested putting Green, previously known primarily as a speedster, into the Seahawks' lineup on third-and-short situations in 1999. Not coincidentally, Green converted 12 of 13 tries on third-and-1 for the Packers last year.
Sherman had done his homework--and Green taught Packers' opponents his value as an NFL running back.