Backs to the Future
By Jon Meerdink
In our continuing tour through all the positions on the Packer roster, we return to the offensive backfield with a look at the running backs and fullbacks. This is a position very much in flux as far as the Packers go. Three years ago, the Packers basically had one primary ball carrier and one third down back (Ryan Grant and Brandon Jackson, respectively). But last season, there really wasn't a big time runner on the roster; leading rusher James Starks only had 133 carries from scrimmage. And just a few years removed from carrying three fullbacks (John Kuhn, Korey Hall, and Quinn Johnson) for an entire season, it was only Kuhn suiting up for the green and gold last season.
But all moving and shaking aside, right now the Packers have eight players on the roster who line up as either a running back or fullback, and in all likelihood there are only going to be four spots (maybe five) for those eight guys on the final roster. So who's it going to be? Let's meet them all and find out.
James Starks - Even though Starks basically split carries with Ryan Grant last year, he was more or less considered the lead back. And despite the Packers ridiculously pass -happy attack, he still managed to eke out a respectable 578 yards. Starks introduces what will be a recurring theme throughout this look at Packer runners: injury questions. Starks spent the first six games of his rookie season on the Physically Unable to Perform list because of hamstring troubles, and missed three full games and parts of others last year with more injuries. He's a big, strong, fast back and there's no question he can be productive when healthy, but like at least two others on this list, he's not all that healthy too often. Nevertheless, out of the five running backs on the roster, I think Starks is the only one that can be considered a lock to make the final roster.
Alex Green - This former third round pick was drafted for his abilities to work out of a spread offense, which he did virtually all the time at the University of Hawaii. He had one spectacular catch and run in the preseason last year, which really showcased his abilities as an open field runner, and he was finally starting to get some looks in regular game action when he blew up his knee blocking on a kick return near the middle of the season. I think Green seems like a pretty strong contender to make the roster this year, but that's going to depend on how his knee has recovered. If he's not sufficiently healthy, he'll probably start the season on the PUP list, since I doubt the team is ready to cut him loose after just a single, partial season.
Brandon Saine - An undrafted prospect from Ohio State, Saine started the season on the practice squad last year but got a big call up when Alex Green destroyed his knee and other lingering injuries to both Ryan Grant and James Starks limited their effectiveness. Saine is supposedly really fast, but we didn't see enough of him last year to get a sense for what he can do. Saine could make the roster as change of pace to James Starks, but more than any of the other backs, his prospects will depend on the performance of others. If Alex Green isn't healthy, Saine could be a shoo-in. But if Green comes back strong and the two rookie backs show something special, Saine could be seeking other employment.
Du'ane Bennett - Bennett has a good name as far as Green Bay running backs go (Edgar, anyone?), but as far as personal opinions are concerned, I kind of hope he doesn't turn out to be anything special. Why? Not because I don't want him to succeed, but because his name is a pain in the butt to spell. All kidding aside, Bennett might be a long shot to make the roster. He's only 5'9", so unless he has some serious wheels, he's got a big knock against him right off the bat. However, if he can run, there may be a spot for him on the practice squad. The success of players like Darren Sproles in New Orleans (and to a lesser degree Reggie Bush in Miami and Dexter McCluster in Kansas City) may be helping turn the tide toward the scat-back type. It could be a long shot to expect that from a guy who only averaged 3.8 yards per carry his senior year at Minnesota, but this post is about getting a surface level look, not making in depth predictions. All I'm saying is that it could happen. And it could. But it probably won't. Moving on.
Marc Tyler - If you believe things you read on the internet, Green Bay was Marc Tyler's hand-picked destination as an undrafted rookie free agent. Why would a running back from California choose to play football in Green Bay, Wisconsin, home of one of the most pass-happy offenses in the NFL? I sure don't know, but he did. Tyler has a small size advantage over Bennett, but based on the brief video highlights I was able to see online, doesn't appear to have any sort of special speed. Much like Bennett, Tyler faces an uphill battle to make the roster. Both he and Bennett will have to hope for injuries ahead of them as they fight for playing time. Again, if Alex Green can't come back at full strength and Bradon Saine falters, the door could be open. But don't count on it.
John Kuhn - Kuhn does pretty much everything: he catches passes, he runs with the football, he dives over people and scores touchdowns. Basically he's worth every penny the Packers pay him because of the variety of ways he can contribute. Out of all the backs on the roster, I'd say only Kuhn and James Starks are absolute, stone cold locks to make the team. Plus he looks a little bit like a lumberjack, so there's that.
Jon Hoese - Despite having a great first name, I think Hoese has extremely long odds for making the roster. If you count up the likely roster spots, it seems like the Packers won't likely carry multiple fullbacks, and there's no way Hoese will leapfrog Kuhn on the depth chart. He'd have to show serious special teams ability or flash some heretofore unseen athletic ability to have a shot at the active roster. He did hang out on the practice squad for a while last year, so that could be his best bet once again.
Nic Cooper - Another player with tremendously long odds of making the roster, Cooper's best shot might be at making enough noise to supplant Hoese on the practice squad pecking order. Cooper ranks fourth all time on Winston-Salem State's career rushing list.