Over the next couple of weeks, packers.com will be examining the Packers' roster, position by position. In the second installment, we look at the running backs.
GREEN BAY—There's one burning question this offseason with regards to the Packers' running game: Is the No. 1 back for 2013 currently on the roster?
It may take a long time to answer that question. The answer turned out to be no last year until midway through training camp when Cedric Benson was signed after James Starks went down with another injury.
In any event, the Packers don't want a repeat of 2012 in the backfield, when injury and production issues led to five different runners – Benson, Starks, Alex Green, late signee Ryan Grant and practice-squadder DuJuan Harris – holding the role of feature back for at least one game.
For all the talk about rhythm and continuity in Mike McCarthy's offense, playing musical chairs in the backfield doesn't help Aaron Rodgers and the rest of the unit. The Packers could use a bell cow. With Grant unlikely to be re-signed, here are the current options:
Benson was on his way to being the guy in 2012 before a foot injury ended his season in Week 5. How he recovers from his surgery, and how the draft unfolds, could determine whether or not the Packers bring Benson back to give him another shot at the top job.
Starks has all the physical tools, and he carried the load in the 2010 Super Bowl run, but his injury problems are borderline maddening. In three seasons, Starks has played in just 27 of a possible 55 total games (including playoffs), so forging ahead with Starks as the main man includes obvious risks.
Green was given his shot after Benson went down, but it's debatable whether he was truly ready for that type of workload only 12 months removed from an ACL injury that cut his rookie 2011 season short. He averaged just 2.4 yards per carry in the three consecutive games he carried the ball at least 20 times (Weeks 6-8; 64 carries, 154 yards) and was much more productive as a complementary back, averaging 4.8 per rush four different times he had between 10 and 13 attempts. Perhaps Green will be a different runner another year removed from reconstructive knee surgery.
Harris gave the running game the spark it needed late in the season, as he rushed for 257 yards in six games (including playoffs). But at 5-8, it's hard to imagine Harris as the primary back. His biggest single-game workload – 17 carries in the wild-card game against the Vikings – was his least productive effort (2.8 yards per carry). It might be hard to find a better change-of-pace guy, though. His speed and quick-twitch abilities were evident from his first Green Bay carry on the opening snap against Detroit in Week 14.
Considering the Packers have now gone three straight regular seasons without any running back reaching 750 yards and with just a single 100-yard performance (by Brandon Jackson, in Week 5 of 2010), if there were a time to spend a high draft pick on a running back, this might be it.
In his eight drafts as GM, Ted Thompson has selected a running back in the first five rounds only twice. Jackson was taken in the second round in 2007 but never developed into a true No. 1. Green was drafted in the third round in 2011.
As for fullback, fan favorite John Kuhn is well-respected in the locker room for his knowledge of the offense and willingness to do the dirty work, but he'll turn 31 when next season begins. The only viable alternative currently in-house is Brandon Saine, who will be coming back from knee surgery in 2013. At some point down the line, Saine could assume Kuhn's all-purpose role.
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