Opportunity Knocks At Key Positions


One man's departure is another's chance to step forward.

That's the way Head Coach Mike McCarthy views the two hits the Packers have taken in free agency, with running back Ahman Green and tight end David Martin leaving for other teams in the past week.

"The opportunity is wide open," McCarthy said in a visit with reporters during Fan Fest on Saturday.

In addressing the running back situation, McCarthy noted it's likely the team will bring in more halfbacks through free agency or the draft. But there are four backs on the roster in Vernand Morency, Noah Herron, Arliss Beach and P.J. Pope who will have a chance to prove they deserve at least some of the workload a six-time 1,000-yard rusher like Green carried.

"Morency had an excellent season for not being here for any of the camps and so forth," McCarthy said. "I thought he did a really good job learning our scheme and was productive when he was given an opportunity. Noah Herron has been very steady, and we tend to forget he had a 100-yard rushing game when he was given the full-time opportunity.

"The thing I like about both (Beach and Pope) is they're tough football players. They both have innate toughness the way they play the game. P.J. I think could be a guy who could really help us on special teams. Arliss really hasn't had that opportunity, but I think he has that personality to do that. They're good football players, which is most important."

McCarthy added that in evaluating running backs, it's not so much their running style that matters but their decision-making ability with the ball. In the zone-blocking run scheme, it's a one-cut-and-go mentality that puts a premium on making that first decision the right one.

"Every runner has a natural style to him and the way he plays," McCarthy said. "But with the one-cut, the footwork, things like that - the most important thing is the vision. The vision and discipline and the decision."

There's a similar opportunity at tight end for the players still here as well. While Bubba Franks will look to rebound from a disappointing 2006 season, young up-and-comers like Tory Humphrey and Zac Alcorn will want to seize their chance as best they can.

Before a season-ending hamstring injury midway through the year, Humphrey proved last season he could contribute on special teams, and McCarthy hopes to see those contributions carry over to the offense. Meanwhile, Alcorn has the best hands on the team, according to McCarthy, and will have a chance to step forward as he improves his run blocking and pass protection.

{sportsad300}As with the running back spot, McCarthy's immediate focus on the current players isn't a dismissal of attempting to upgrade through free agency or the draft if the right players are available. But the coaching staff knows the players who are here and is more aware of their potential, so no one is going to be overlooked just because he hasn't piled up a ton of game experience yet.

"I do know this about our guys - 90 percent of them are young," McCarthy said. "Young players improve. You cannot give up on young players, in my opinion. They need to be given as much opportunity to succeed. A lot of our guys haven't even been given an opportunity.

"They're here for a reason. We're not just keeping them on the depth chart to fill a spot. We've created opportunity, and I feel very good about the guys we have right now, and the next few months are critical to the development of our football team."

McCarthy also explained that just because the Packers have been quiet in the opening weeks of free agency doesn't mean they're sitting idle. Without getting into specifics, McCarthy said "there's a lot going on" as far as evaluating potential pick-ups.

Another key role to fill is in the leadership department with the release of veteran fullback William Henderson this past week. In talking with reporters on Saturday, several players expressed how hard it is to see a player of Henderson's stature leave, but they understand the business decisions that must be made.

Even though none of the departures has been directly addressed thus far, the current Packers don't seem concerned with the patient approach of the front office. There is a measure of confidence in the players on the roster as well as those in charge of the roster, and the current players expect the right moves, whatever they may be, to be made in due time.

"I believe very strongly that our general manager Ted Thompson knows exactly what he's doing," Pro Bowl defensive end Aaron Kampman said. "He's always had a plan, he sticks by it, and all of our front office people do a great job, so we just continue to trust them. Like I said, I really feel that we've got a lot of the pieces already in place."

Added center Scott Wells: "Maybe they don't feel the people that are available is what we need right now. That could be the case. Maybe they see somebody in the draft who could make an early impact, or maybe they're comfortable with the guys we have. I don't know their motivation necessarily but I'm confident they're doing what's in the best interests of our team."

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