What, Exactly, is Alex Green?
As I see it, the Packers' roster currently has three legitimate contenders at the running back position. The most obvious candidate is James Starks, because he's big and fast and has actually been on the roster before without a) getting his knee bent in unnatural directions and b) producing less than 70 rushing yards for an entire season. The second candidate is Brandon Saine, an assignment-sure runner with good straight line speed (in the reported 4.3-4.4 range in college for the 40) and who missed out on the a) qualification above. Sure, he was not terribly productive in eight games on the active roster (just 69 yards on 18 carries, or point b) above), but he seems to be having a relatively solid camp by most accounts.
That leaves us with bachelor (possibly, I don't know for sure) number three: Alex Green. So what is he, exactly? That's what I'm wondering.
As a third round pick (96th overall in the 2011 Draft), Green has the best draft pedigree of any back on the roster. Despite playing in the pass-wacky Hawaii offense, Green produced nearly 1200 yards rushing and 18 touchdowns in his last year of collegiate ball. That experience in a passing offense is likely what caught the Packers' attention, given that they like their running backs to be sound in pass protection. For some reason, the coaching staff has this idea that Aaron Rodgers is kind of important, but I digress.
At any rate, Green came to the Packers with an appealing background, but didn't see a lot of playing time as a rookie, even in the preseason. However, in the preseason work he did get, he managed to capture the imagination of fans and media folk alike with a 25-yard juking, spinning, catch-and-run off a screen pass in the second preseason game.
Fast forward to late October, when Green was innocently blocking on a kick return against Minnesota, only to have some inconsiderate jerk fall into his knee and tear his ACL while he wasn't even looking. Mike McCarthy called the injury "unfortunate" and Ted Thompson called Green's season "over," placing him on injured reserve.
Fast forward again to today, and Green is more or less back from his knee injury, a ridiculously rapid recovery from a pretty serious boo-boo. He played in the Family Night scrimmage, but didn't get a lot of reps as the coaching staff has him on a pretty short "let's not blow up his knee again" leash. With tomorrow night being the first preseason game, though, I imagine we'll start to see a little bit more what the coaches have planned for Green, which leads me back to my question from four paragraphs ago: what is he, exactly?
What he's not is the same caliber of runner as James Starks, but few men are. And while that might actually sound like a swipe at Green, I assure you it's not. It actually tells us quite a bit about how he might be used. Green's skill set lands him almost perfectly in the role of the third down back, that guy who comes in to either block for the quarterback on an obvious passing play or catch a screen pass and dash for a first down. Since we know that Green can run screen plays pretty well (blah, blah, preseason last year and all that), and he has a pass protecting background, it seems safe to say that there could be a future in that role for Green.
But what about Brandon Saine? I'm glad you asked. Obviously, having Saine AND Starks AND Green AND John Kuhn (remember him?) would probably be overkill, there's a good chance one of them will be inactive at least some of the time this season. I'd have to look to be sure, but I don't think that Coach McCarthy went into a lot of games last year with three true halfbacks active, especially since Kuhn can fill in as a runner in a pinch. Unless one of them is hurt, I can pretty much guarantee the guy taking a seat won't be Starks or Kuhn, so that leaves Saine or Green as the odd man out.
It took us a while to get here, but here's my prediction: early in the season, McCarthy will go with Starks and Saine as his backs, with Green slowly getting worked into the rotation more as his knee gets better and he gets closer and closer to full speed. In an ideal world, I think McCarthy wants Green to be his guy, and I think he does have better physical gifts than Saine, so the upside could be greater with the Hawaii product. So then, what, exactly is Alex Green? For the time being, he's a big question mark, but hopefully develop into an important cog in the Packers' offensive machine.