Notebook: Backfield Gains Experience, Depth

For all the questions the Packers had at running back heading into the 2007, the way the season unfolded not only answered some of those but established a position group with considerably more depth heading into 2008. "There’s a lot that can come out of that group," Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. - More Packers-Giants Game Center


From left to right, Korey Hall, Brandon Jackson, John Kuhn, running backs coach Edgar Bennett, Vernand Morency and Ryan Grant.

For all the questions the Green Bay Packers had at running back heading into the 2007, the way the season unfolded not only answered some of those but established a position group with considerably more depth heading into 2008.

Three young, different running backs - Ryan Grant, DeShawn Wynn and Brandon Jackson - all got their cracks at being the team's feature back over the past season, and that experience only bodes well as each of their careers evolve.

"I think it's a strength, because it was a young group that lacked experience, and almost every single one of them has been given some level of experience, just through the opportunities that they had this year," Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. "There's a lot that can come out of that group."

Grant obviously established himself as the top back midway through the year, rushing for nearly 1,000 yards over the final 10 regular-season games and then adding a franchise playoff record 201 in the NFC Divisional round win over Seattle.

Meanwhile the rookie Wynn, whom Grant replaced when he went on injured reserve with a shoulder injury, had 203 yards and four touchdowns on 50 carries, and fellow rookie Jackson added 267 yards and a TD on 75 carries.

Both Wynn and Jackson suffered through some expected growing pains but showed flashes of their legitimate and considerable potential.

Wynn's 38-yard touchdown run at New York in Week 2 and his 44-yard run on the first series against Chicago in Week 5 were two notable highlights, while Jackson had 20 carries for 113 yards in the regular-season finale against Detroit when Grant took an early rest.

On top of that, Jackson added special teams to his responsibilities at midseason and performed well despite limited, if any, experience on special teams previously.

McCarthy feels Jackson can become a core special teams player as he continues in a backup role, while Wynn's health, which included several nagging injuries before the season-ending one, seems to be the biggest key for him.

Throw in Vernand Morency, who developed into a dependable third-down back as the season progressed and he got healthier, two young fullbacks in Korey Hall and John Kuhn, and the return from injured reserve of Noah Herron, and position coach Edgar Bennett has a lot to work with next season.

And Grant isn't done developing either. Having arrived in Week 1 via trade, Grant will now have an entire offseason in the Packers' strength and conditioning program, plus mini-camp, OTAs and a full training camp to improve his game within McCarthy's offensive system.

"He's just going to be that much better player, more in tune with the run-blocking unit, the pass protection," McCarthy said. "He can improve on the checkdowns, he can be more involved in the passing game. There's a number of little things he can improve on."

Better up front

McCarthy also will be looking for improvement in the run-blocking from the offensive line. The inconsistency was evident in the playoffs, as the ground game dominated Seattle in the NFC Divisional round but allowed Grant just 29 yards against the Giants in the NFC Championship.

McCarthy praised the offensive line's work in pass protection this season, which improved to such an extent that the frequent seven-man protection schemes of 2006 gave way to many five-man schemes in 2007, allowing for a more diversified passing game with four- and five-receiver sets.

But now McCarthy would like to see a similar jump in the run-blocking, to give what appears to be a deep and talented stable of backs the opportunity to show what they've got.

"The identity of our football team will always be built around our offensive and defensive line, and we need to improve the run-blocking," McCarthy said. "That will be a primary focus of ours in the offseason.

"I think just the maturation of our players and being in year three will help us."

{sportsad300}Same process with Favre

McCarthy said he met with quarterback Brett Favre before Favre headed home to Mississippi, and Favre is going to go through the same process he has in the past to decide whether to retire or continue playing.

"Take a couple weeks, take the emotion out of everything that's going on positive and negative and make the best decision that's in the best interest of him and his family," McCarthy said, summing up his conversation with Favre. "We talked about all the reasons why to come back and some of the reasons why he wouldn't come back. We ran through that gauntlet. He's always been very open and forthcoming with how he feels about every situation."

McCarthy said he plans to speak to Favre every seven to 10 days just to touch base and see how he's doing with the decision, and go from there. McCarthy did not know whether Favre intended to go to the Pro Bowl in Hawaii or not.

One departure

There will be at least one change on McCarthy's staff for 2008. Defensive quality control coach Eric Lewis is heading to the University of Louisville to coach the defensive backs. Lewis spent the past two seasons with the Packers after working as a secondary coach at Bucknell and Ball State previously.

McCarthy said he had not been contacted regarding his assistants and other open jobs.

Not done yet

McCarthy said his contract extension continues to be a work in progress, and he's hoping to get things finalized perhaps as soon as the end of this week.

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