Packers running backs have got to be looking over their shoulders


Cedric Benson started last season as the Packers running back before being injured. He has not yet been signed by the Packers and one wonders if he will given the team’s draft.

Dean Hall photograph

Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy didn’t send any mixed messages last weekend when they expended two of their draft picks on running backs – and not just on any old running backs who happened to be available – they went all in and selected two of the best backs on the board.

Their call was loud and clear: The Green Bay Packers are going to improve their running game and they are serious about it.

James Starks (44) is upended by Minnesota Vikings cornerback Josh Robinson (21) while rushing with the football during the fourth quarter at Lambeau Field. The Packers defeated the Vikings 23-14. Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

By selecting Eddie Lacy with their lone second round pick and then turning around in the fourth round and selecting Johnathan Franklin, the Packers had one eye on their in-house running backs – James Starks, Alex Green, and DuJuan Harris. Without saying a word, the Packers put these three running backs on notice while upping the ante, increasing the competition and putting on full display their lack of confidence in that phase of the game.

As a team, the Packers ran the ball an average of 27.1 times per game in 2012, so it wasn’t like they got completely away from the attempt to show they could do it. However, they averaged just 3.9 yards per attempt and 106.4 per game, finishing twentieth overall in the league.

So, what’s wrong with that, you say? Nothing, if you’re satisfied with mediocrity.

Compare that with the Washington Redskins, who finished first overall in the league. Washington carried the ball 32.4 times per game, averaging 5.2 yards per carry and 169.3 yards per game.

That’s a big difference.

The Packers longest run from scrimmage was 41 yards and the one bit of good news was that they fumbled just four times.

The mediocre statistics for the Packers was a focal point for Thompson in this year’s draft – and rightly so.

The Packers, who started their season with Cedric Benson as their starter, was just beginning to see some production from the veteran when he went down with the dreaded lisfranc foot injury against the Indianapolis Colts. Next up was Alex Green, who led the team with 464 yards. While he was a steady player for the most part, Green didn’t seem to have the acceleration and cutting ability because he was coming off a serious knee injury suffered the year before. He wasn’t himself. James Starks made an attempt at a comeback of his own, but went down with a knee injury not long after coming back and was lost for the remainder of the season.

Alex Green Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

While DuJuan Harris, the diminutive ball of energy, inserted some spunk and power into the Packers game at the end of the season, it’s clear that he isn’t a three-down back. He could be a productive change of pace back for the Packers this season and because of that, will most likely stick.

But with the new guys coming in, a whole new attitude and energy should come with them. One of the best competitions to watch as the Packers begin their early season workouts, OTAs and then get into Training Camp will be among the running backs.

We’re sure Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy will have an eye glued to that part of the field as well.

Stay tuned …