Green Bay Packers running back DuJuan Harris runs the ball against the San Francisco 49ers during the first quarter of the NFC divisional round playoff game at Candlestick Park. Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
The Green Bay Packers offseason activities are officially under way, and we will continue discussing each position on the roster. Today, we take a close look at the Packers’ backfield. Next week we’ll finish out the offense with the tight ends and offensive line, and then we’ll move on to the defense.
Much has been written about the Packers running back situation, especially since they acquired Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin in the draft. Both these young players are unique talents that add a much-needed dynamic to the position. Just about every fan that watched the Packers last season understands why it is important for Green Bay to establish a consistent running game, and it seems Ted Thompson has made moves this offseason to accomplish this. However, despite the new acquisitions, there is still a lot of uncertainty at running back heading into the 2013 season.
There will be some tough decisions to make at the position for Mike McCarthy and Ted Thompson. Who to start? Who to keep? Who to let go? Most likely, Green Bay will have to let some young talented players at the position walk. A difficult decision, indeed.
With this in mind, let’s take a closer look at the position.
Running Back/Fullback (8)
Eddie Lacy works out during the Green Bay Packers rookie orientation weekend. Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
There is a lot of excitement among Packers fans this offseason over Lacy and Franklin, and for good reason. It seems Green Bay is finally committing to building their running game by bringing in top talent at the position. Both Lacy and Franklin were highly productive in college.
Lacy ran for 1,322 yards and 17 touchdowns with a 6.7 yards per carry average in 2012, and proved to be a physical force in the Crimson Tide ground game. The number that really jumps out at me is Lacy’s yards per carry average. That is very high considering Lacy faced top collegiate defensive talent in the SEC. There will be a bit of an adjustment for Lacy in the pros, but if Lacy could produce even a fraction of those numbers in the Green Bay offense, then the Packers might have something here.
Similarly, Franklin rushed for a school record 1,734 and 13 touchdowns with a 6.1 yards per carry average. However, Franklin also showed his versatility out of the backfield by recording 33 receptions for 323 yards and 2 touchdowns in 2012. Add to that Franklin’s kick returning ability, and it seems Green Bay may have found a truly unique talent in the middle of the draft.
Franklin seems more like an all-purpose back who could be utilized in the offense in a variety of ways, much like McCarthy has done with Randall Cobb, and Lacy is that grind-it-out power back that can be especially effective in short yardage and red zone situations. Franklin and Lacy balance each other out nicely, and it will be interesting to see which back rises during camp and claims the starting spot.
Aug 30, 2012; Houston, TX, USA; UCLA Bruins running back Jonathan Franklin (23) runs for a touchdown against the Rice Owls during the first quarter at Rice Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports
I expect Kuhn to keep his job this season, but look for Green Bay to begin developing young talent at the position to eventually replace Kuhn. Even though Kuhn is a fan favorite, it seems it is becoming more difficult for him to find a role in the Packers offense. If Green Bay commits more to establishing the run then they will need a more physical fullback who is a true run blocker. And with Franklin and Green on the roster, it seems Kuhn’s third-down back duties may go to younger talent.
After Lacy and Franklin, there is a lot of uncertainty at running back. Suddenly, the position has become crowded, and there seems to be only a couple of spots open for the returning veterans. I don’t expect the Packers to retain Harris, Green, and Starks. It looks like Green Bay will have to let at least one of these guys go.
The coaches seem to really like Harris. He came on late in the season last year and looked like the best back on the roster heading into the playoffs. Harris had his best game in week 17 against the Minnesota Vikings, where he recorded 70 yards rushing on 14 carries. Harris is still very young and has a lot of potential, and without a full season under his belt, we still haven’t seen the best he can offer. Harris will still have to fight for a roster spot this offseason, but he seems to be the best bet out of the returning backs to make the final roster in 2013. If Harris has a great offseason, he might even challenge Lacy and Franklin for the starting spot.
Green Bay Packers running back Alex Green during the game against the Detroit Lions at Lambeau Field. The Packers won 27-20. Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
If the Packers keep four running backs this season, Green and Starks will have to fight for the last spot. With Starks’ inability to stay in the lineup because of injuries, it seems Green is the better bet at this point. Starks has had some production in the past, but I’m not sure if the Packers will want to risk giving up a roster spot to a player who has trouble staying healthy.
Green has also had a string of injuries that kept him out of the lineup in his first two seasons, but the Packers haven’t really seen what Green can offer yet when healthy. Maybe this fact alone will keep him on the roster. Green also has some experience in the spread offense and could prove to be a reliable third-down back.
Either way, both Green and Starks have a lot to prove this offseason. Maybe they take this as extra motivation and impress their coaches during camp, but it seems the chips are stacked against them at this point.
Angelo Pease could be an interesting prospect for the Packers to keep around and develop. McCarthy seemed impressed with Pease’s movement out of the backfield in rookie camp, but we won’t really know what Pease has to offer until the pads are on and real contact is taking place. Unless Pease has an outstanding camp, my guess is that the Packers keep and develop Pease on the practice squad this season.
Amosa was a starting fullback for the Washington Huskies the past two seasons, and proved to be a very physical lead blocker for their running game. Maybe Green Bay brought in Amosa to add a more physical presence to the fullback position in their attempt to improve their running game. I’m not sure if Amosa will challenge Kuhn for the fullback position, but Amosa seems to have a different skill set than Kuhn and could prove to be a good special teams player. I could see Amosa landing on the practice squad this year and develop into the Packers blocking fullback of the future.
The Packers only kept four backs on their 53-man roster headed into last season (Benson, Starks, Green, Kuhn). Will this be the year they keep five? It could be a real possibility considering the amount of injuries they suffered at the position last year and the depth of young talent they currently have in the backfield.
This will be one of the more heated and intriguing position battles to observe heading into training camp. However, we won’t really know what these players offer until the real hitting starts in August. I can’t wait.