Notebook: RBs Finding Their Niche

The Packers’ running-back-by-committee approach has had mixed results thus far, to be sure, but Head Coach Mike McCarthy said he’s getting more comfortable with calling plays to the strengths of Brandon Jackson, DeShawn Wynn and Ryan Grant when they’re in the game. - More Audio | Video | Packers-Giants Game Center


The Packers' running-back-by-committee approach has had mixed results thus far, to be sure, but Head Coach Mike McCarthy said he's getting more comfortable with calling plays to the strengths of Brandon Jackson, DeShawn Wynn and Ryan Grant when they're in the game.

Thus far, McCarthy's approach has been to prepare each running back during the week for a package of plays he likely will be called upon to run in the game. For the most part, Jackson has served as the primary back on first and second downs, Wynn has handled third downs, and on Sunday Grant got into the game for a screen pass and with pass-protection responsibility.

But that's not to say each back will be pigeonholed into certain role. McCarthy has to caution against that because that would make it easier for defenses to pick up on the potential play calls based on the personnel in the game.

That's not as much of a concern early in the season, when opponents don't have much film to go on, but it's something that must be monitored as the season wears on. It's a matter of finding a balance between playing to each back's strengths without being too predictable.

"It's just really trying to build the continuity between that runner and that specific scheme that he's trying to do," McCarthy said.

"Every single one of them is prepared to do everything. It's not a matter of you can only do this, you can only do that. I think it just helps them focus in on their package, and we're not maxing those guys out. It's a long year, they're young, their experience level is growing, and we're just keeping in tune with that as we move forward."

On Sunday, the production was spread around to all three backs. Jackson had 17 rushes for 35 yards and four receptions for 24 yards. Wynn had 10 carries for 50 yards and two touchdowns, plus two receptions for 18 yards. Grant had the one catch-and-run on a screen for 21 yards that helped set up the Packers' first touchdown, a nifty play that shows another dimension he could bring to the offense.

"That was a big play," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. "It gave us a spark. It was a very, very athletic move on the sideline. The guy went low to tackle him, he spun out of it, kept his balance, really didn't lose stride at all. It was an impressive run."

Later in the game, Grant also picked up a safety blitz in the red zone, freeing up quarterback Brett Favre to get the pass away.

"What we asked him to do he was sound and solid," Philbin said. "Hopefully we can build some more things in for him."

The more the downs-and-distances can be varied with each back, the better off the Packers are going to be. McCarthy said Jackson actually ran some plays designed more for Wynn on Sunday, while Wynn's first TD run came on second down, and Grant's big gain came on second down as well.

"It's really trying to find the formula to use all those guys," McCarthy said. "And then when Vernand Morency comes back, you have another playmaker in the mix too. Our biggest challenge is really to get it organized and get it repped so the continuity exists with the run-blocking unit."

Having some options

The Packers certainly like what they saw from kickoff returner Tramon Williams on Sunday, and he's made himself a viable option when top return man Will Blackmon is able to resume the duty.

{sportsad300}Williams broke off a 46-yard return late in the first half on Sunday that was called back on a holding penalty that appeared to be away from the ball. He then opened the second half with a 42-yard return to the Green Bay 49, setting up the first of the Packers' four touchdown drives in the second half.

Blackmon hasn't handled returns in the games since sustaining a Bennett's fracture of his thumb in the second preseason game, forcing him to wear a cast on his hand. McCarthy said Blackmon would probably be able to return kickoffs now if needed, but he would be more iffy on punts with the cast.

"Will showed what he can do in preseason," said McCarthy, referring to Blackmon's 83-yard kickoff return against Seattle on Aug. 18. "You'd like to have both of them back there. Flexibility is important, you never have enough depth, and I'm just excited with what Tramon has done with his opportunities."

Chance at history

With wins over the Eagles and Giants in the first two weeks of the season, the Packers have begun a season by beating two teams that made the playoffs the previous year for just the third time, according to Elias Sports Bureau. They also did so in 1966 (Baltimore and Cleveland) and in 1998 (Detroit and Tampa Bay).

If the Packers can beat the Chargers this Sunday, it would mark the first time in franchise history the team will have started 3-0 with all three wins against teams that reached the playoffs the previous year.

Injury update

McCarthy said offensive lineman Tony Palmer, initially diagnosed with a stinger from Sunday's game, actually has a small bone fracture in his neck. Palmer did not return to Green Bay with the team Sunday evening in order to run the medical tests but was en route back on Monday.

McCarthy said Palmer was fine and in good spirits, and there was nothing to suggest a spinal cord injury. But it's possible Palmer's season could be over, and the Packers will make that decision after the team doctors get to see Palmer again.

Left tackle Chad Clifton's ankle injury, which forced him to miss one series in the second half on Sunday, does not appear to be serious. McCarthy said Clifton could miss some practice time this week but was optimistic he'd be ready for next Sunday's game.

Like last week, Morency (knee) will be put through a full practice on Wednesday to see if he responds to any soreness again. Thus far, Morency has not been able to emerge from a full practice pain-free and therefore hasn't played.

McCarthy also said receiver Greg Jennings might be held out of practice a bit longer this week to see if that gives his hamstring a better chance to heal. Like Morency, Jennings has missed the season's first two games.

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