Green Bay Packers backfield: Strength in numbers


Kansas State Wildcats running back Angelo Pease showed Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy some instincts that could make him a viable candidate for the Packers running back rotation. John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports photograph

Much has been written in the post-NFL draft blogosphere about the potential and promise of Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin, Green Bay’s impact rookie running back duo.

Understandably so.

Both players were reportedly high on many team’s draft boards, and each possess tantalizing skill sets and fresh legs. Their ability to learn the playbook, improve and maintain conditioning and most importantly, stay healthy during training camp this summer will be determining factors in how much playing time they see during the upcoming 2013 season.

At this early stage either player could easily be penciled in as the opening day starter who lines up in the backfield behind Aaron Rodgers.

Their presence has undoubtedly made getting a good night’s sleep difficult for the likes of DuJuan Harris, Alex Green and James Starks. Green Bay recently attempted to trade Starks in the aftermath of the draft but no suitors have been found to-date for the ex-Buffalo University star. For the onetime key component in the Packers running game during the fabled season-ending run in 2010 that culminated in the Super Bowl XLV title, the clock may be ticking.

James Starks has shown promise, but hasn’t been able to stay on the field for any length of time for the Packers. Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports photograph

In the “what have you done for me lately” NFL, it’s not out of the question to think that Starks has gone from world champion and heir apparent to the lead running back duties in Packers News to being injured and out of a job. Realistically, the market for an injury-prone running back with a history of fumbling is likely limited. It’s a distinct possibility that Starks may have played his last game in a Packers uniform. Green Bay has already cut ties with rusher Brandon Saine.

Packer backfield, once a liability, now a strength

By most accounts the Packers, by way of the draft, have immensely upgraded a backfield unit that was widely recognized as a severe liability in recent seasons and have turned it – at least on paper – into a formidable strength. The Packers have typically utilized a “who’s hot” committee approach at running back, with no one player demonstrating much consistency in recent years, save late-season bloomer DuJuan Harris.

At one point in 2012 he suited up (with a suit and matching tie) and sold cars for a dealership in Jacksonville, Fla. He was signed in October and ended up rushing for 157 yards and two touchdowns on 34 carries over four games. His diminutive stature (he’s listed at a generous 5-9 in the Green Bay media guide) allowed him to disappear behind the offensive line, make cuts and then burst upfield to daylight. Fans and coaches alike immediately fell in love with Harris.

Of course, Green Bay features the elite Rodgers behind center. The lack of an established back who can be the focal point in the Packers running game has been a catalyst for a “pass to set up the pass” offensive philosophy. At times, defenses have blatantly ignored the ground attack and flooded the typical passing lanes with extra defenders. This contributed to Aaron Rodgers having somewhat less success throwing the football in 2012 compared to his incredible MVP season in 2011.

The fact is, the Packers are in much better shape at this point in the off-season heading into training camp than they have been in years. And that’s a fact that will only help the offense take the next step forward as Green Bay attempts to build a unit to take pressure off Rodgers and help churn out first downs and chew up clock during the latter stages of the inevitable wintry playoff games that are on the horizon. Their inability to do both are major reasons why they were unable to advance in each of the last two postseasons.

Angelo Pease – could he help the Packers running game?

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Angelo Pease, an undrafted gem

With the drafting of Lacy and Franklin, one would think that Green Bay is set at running back heading into 2013. However, Ted Thompson isn’t one to rest on his laurels after the draft. Coming out of the Packers’ rookie orientation camp over the weekend it appears that he may have orchestrated yet another small coup in his mission to continue to overhaul and upgrade the backfield rotation.

Angelo Pease, an undrafted (and relatively unknown) free agent running back from Kansas State University participated in drills and wowed coaches on multiple occasions during the initial practice sessions. At one point, McCarthy said he thought Pease “looked like Lacy” the way he lowered his shoulders and quickly accelerated up field. Quite the compliment for a player who rushed for just 333 yards on 60 carries in Manhattan in 2011. Pease was clocked at 4.50 in the 40-yard dash at his pro day in March and he has capable hands, snaring 23 passes as a senior.

According to Tyler Dunne of the Journal Sentinel, head coach McCarthy heaped praise on the ex-Wildcat, saying “He had another run today. I think he’s a good young back … He’s here for a reason. So that’s a credit to the player and that’s a credit to our personnel department. You’re also practicing in helmets and shorts and that’s why you have to be practical about what you saw today. It really confirms movement ability, athletic ability. Are they systematic? Do they fit what you’re looking for?”

After just one weekend in Green Bay, it’s looking like a possibility that Pease may be a fit. He ran hard, and looked fluid, decisive and quick in the offense. Those are adjectives that have rarely been used to describe the style of play for any running back currently on the roster for the Packers in recent seasons. It remains to be seen if Pease will be offered a contract to continue his offseason team workouts but Thompson would be remiss not to afford the rookie camp standout at least another opportunity to suit up in full pads this summer when the drills matter more – and performance counts.

The 2013 edition of the draft was one that Ted Thompson and company absolutely had to nail and it appears they are right on track with their stable of running back personnel additions.

The way things are going so far, the Green Bay running game could be in store for big things this fall.