Running Backs Have Strong Showing in Packers Family Night Scrimmage


James Starks rushes with the football during the Family Night scrimmage. Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports photograph

The Green Bay Packers Family Night scrimmage gave us our first look at this year’s team in a live game situation. We were able to see the young players perform during live tackling, and to me, one group jumped out above the rest—the running backs.

The group as a whole looked much improved from last year. Remember the preseason opener last season? James Starks, Alex Green, and Brandon Saine were all nursing injuries and the Packers relied on undrafted rookie Marc Tyler to handle a majority of the carries – a guy who didn’t even make the team and is currently out of the league.

Even after the Packers acquired veteran back Cedric Benson, the running back position was still a weakness on the team last year.

We are all hoping the Packers backfield will turn the corner this season and really play a factor on offense. Well, the Packers intrasquad scrimmage may just have given us our first glance as to what the Green Bay running game could look like this season. Granted, it was just a team scrimmage and it’s a small sample of who these players really are, but I have to say, it was definitely a step in the right direction.

The backs looked impressive, and the intense competition at the position seems to be getting the best out of each player.

James Starks looked like the back who played a key part in the Packers 2010 Super Bowl run. He started with the first team offense and on the opening series had three 5-yard runs on his first three carries. After dropping an easy checkdown pass, Starks redeemed himself by converting a screen pass in the flat for a 23-yard gain. The coaches seem pleased with Starks’s performance so far in camp. He’s cutting well and proving to be a physical back. Let’s see if he can stack successes and continue this momentum through the preseason.

Eddie Lacy. Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports photograph

Eddie Lacy stole the show on Saturday night. He had 65 yards on eight carries, and he rotated with Starks in the first team offense. He showcased his ability to burst through the hole and make things happen in the second level of the defense. He had two big runs of 16 and 19 yards, and an eight-yard run where he pushed through defenders to make something out of nothing. Lacy demonstrated his ability to gain those few extra yards each time he runs by falling forward after contact. An important trait for any running back, especially for a big back who can prove his worth in the red zone and short yardage situations.

One thing that really jumps out at me is how light Lacy is on his feet. For such a big and powerful back, he is pretty quick and can juke defenders in the open field. Lacy could turn out to be a real game-changer for the Packers. He has the potential to be a physical back who can wear down a defense, but he also possesses the ability to break off big runs if he’s given an opening.

With strong performances from Starks and Lacy, Alex Green’s solid showing may be overlooked. However, Green had a 12-yard run against the first team defense where he broke a Brad Jones’s tackle and burst through the hole. Green didn’t make these types of plays last year. Having recovered from his knee injury, he seems like a different back this year. He’s cutting better and running with more confidence. Green is kind of the forgotten man in the Packers backfield, but he could sneak up on people and carve out a specific role on the team this season.

Alex Green. Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports photograph

Johnathan Franklin struggled in his first series with the second team offense. There just wasn’t a lot of room for him to run, and unlike Lacy, Franklin lacks the size to push through defenders and gain yards after contact.

However, on his second series Franklin had a few nice runs where he got outside the tackles and demonstrated his elusiveness in the open field. Franklin also had a few plays as the lone back in the shotgun formation where he picked up the blitzer and held his own. So far early on, Franklin seems more suited as a utility or situational player.

It’s easy for undrafted rookie Angelo Pease to get lost in the shuffle at running back with all the depth at the position. Pease didn’t see a lot of action during the scrimmage, but he had arguably the play of the night. In the red zone, he caught a swing pass in the flat from Graham Harrell, juked rookie linebacker Nate Palmer in the open field, and turned on the burners for a 16-yard touchdown. This is a great example of a guy at the bottom of the depth chart making the most of his limited opportunities.

Overall, I am encouraged by the progress of the Packers backfield. Not to mention the offensive line seems more focused on improving the run blocking. It is still way too early to hand out starting jobs or roster spots. There is still a lot of football left to be played in August, including four preseason games.

But, the Packers seem to be heading in the right direction in improving their run game. Their mix of young backs and reinvigorated veterans has breathed new life into a previously weak point on the roster.