Saturday Fan Fest Notebook: Sorting Out The Running Backs

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One of the Packers' interesting offseason story lines will revolve around who starts at halfback and fullback.

Ahman Green has surpassed 1,000 yards five times, but Samkon Gado filled in when Green tore a quadriceps tendon last year and rushed for 582 yards in just eight games.

A team-first guy, Gado deemed Green the man.

"There is only one starter, and Ahman Green is that guy. And he's done nothing to lose the position other than get hurt," Gado said. "He is the best running back on the team right now."

Gado may view himself as the backup, but that will not change the way he prepares for the season.

"That doesn't take away from my approach and my mentality," Gado said. "I'm going to fight for it. It's competition, and that's why we play this game."

The future of the fullback position also bears watching. Henderson has played for the Packers since the team drafted him in 1995, but he is an unrestricted free agent. The 35-year-old works out intensely and wants to play three more seasons. He said he will not sign a one-year deal.

"The Packers have been honest and up front with me early in letting me know they were interested in having me back, but they also encouraged me to see what the market offered me," Henderson said. "Unfortunately I've got to possibly look elsewhere, but that's the nature of the business."


The Future Of The Secondary

Come 2006, one second-year defensive back will be bigger and stronger while another will be just as versatile.

Cornerback Mike Hawkins, a fifth-round draft pick in 2005, has made adding muscle a major priority for the 2006 season. Hawkins played in 11 games last year. At times the raw player with only one year of college experience displayed his speed -- timed at 4.28 in the 40 during one pre-draft workout.

Hawkins, however, missed four games due to ankle, knee and groin injuries. He has spent the offseason working out in Dallas and said the added strength will better protect him from injury this year. Hawkins, who weighed 175 pounds last year, now tips the scales at 191.

"I got a lot stronger," Hawkins said. "I'm trying to come in and make a big impact this year."

Because of his strength and speed combination, Nick Collins, a second-round pick last year, can play either safety or cornerback. He started all 16 games at safety last year, but the 5-11, 200-pounder has the coverage skills to handle defensive coordinator Bob Sanders' bump-and-run system.

Although the coaching staff has not broached that position change to him, Collins said he will line up wherever is best for the team.

"It doesn't matter to me. If they want to make that change, it's going to be up to the coaches," Collins said. "I'm comfortable where I'm at right now."

Regardless of where they play and at what position, both Hawkins and Collins could steady a secondary for years to come.

"The sky's the limit," Hawkins said.


Listening To History

When legendary Packers offensive lineman Jerry Kramer took the main stage in the Lambeau Field Atrium, it served as one of the highlights for the 2,857 in attendance at Saturday's Fan Fest.

Kramer played segments of his "Inside The Locker Room" two CD-set through the atrium's speaker system while also chatting up audience members. The audio gives detailed sound from the Super Bowl II locker room.

One hears Vince Lombardi exhorting his team, Willie Davis talking, cleats clanging against the floor and even nervous players retching. Kramer began recording audio for his book, entitled "Instant Replay," which he wrote with the late Dick Schaap.

"We were trying to give folks an inside look into the locker room," Kramer said.

Why did Kramer need two CDs to detail that experience?

"I'm a two-minute sound byte living in a 15-second sound byte world," Kramer said.


Leading Tackler Likes Familiarity Of The New D

Because Jim Bates and the Packers parted ways at the end of the season, linebacker Nick Barnett will play under his fourth defensive coordinator in as many years.

Defensive coordinator Bob Sanders, however, will implement the defensive scheme most similar to his predecessor, making for a less difficult transition.

"Out of all the defensive coordinators that I've went through," Barnett said, "I feel most comfortable coming into this year."

Sanders, the Packers defensive ends coach last year, coached under Bates for a combined six years with the University of Florida, Miami Dolphins and Packers. Like Bates he wants his defense to feature physical man-to-man play in coverage and speedy linebackers who flow from sideline to sideline.

Barnett has the athletic ability to play inside or outside linebacker in Sanders' scheme. Although Barnett set a Packers franchise record with 194 tackles at the middle linebacker position in 2005, both the free agent and NFL draft class feature a number of quality linebackers. A new addition could cause Barnett to move outside.

"That's on the organization to make that decision," Barnett said. "I feel like my home is in the middle. If they decide to move me, we'll have to discuss that."


Franks Is Rarin' To Go

Although known as a durable tight end, Bubba Franks missed six games last season with knee and neck/back injuries. He cannot wait to turn over a new leaf during the 2006 season.

"I missed out on a lot of football last year. So I'm kind of still hungry and I'm anxious to get out there," Franks said. "I'm looking forward to an exciting year."

Franks not only hopes to enjoy a healthy year, but also one in which he is heavily involved as a receiver. While on stage with him during Friday night's festivities, former Packers safety LeRoy Butler promised a lot of big plays from Franks.

"You'll see the Bubba Franks," Butler said, "that you always wanted to see."

The offense will continue to maximize Franks' skills as one of the game's best blocking tight ends as well. Offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski is implementing a new scheme, emphasizing zone blocking, but Franks said that design will not represent a major change. He did a lot of zone blocking on the edge last year.

"It should be a pretty easy transition," Franks said.

Before he starts up the season in Green Bay, Franks is enjoying life in a much warmer location -- Miami.

"Now that Shaquille (O'Neal)'s down there," he said. "It's a lot more exciting than it used to be."


From Green To Purple

One of the NFC North's heated rivalries just became a little more intense.

The Minnesota Vikings have signed kicker Ryan Longwell. Longwell had played with the Packers since 1997 and remains the franchise's all-time leading scorer and the only Packers player to score more than 1,000 points.

Terms of the deal were not available as of press time.

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