Backfield in motion

Herron's injury means another new face as the clock ticks down toward the opener

Ted Thompson took a moment during his press conference today before he could answer how many healthy running backs will be available for next Sunday's regular season opener. The position has been hit by injuries from the first day of training camp until the final preseason game, leaving Green Bay's top four backs sidelined at one point or another this past month.

Now the Packers have the Philadelphia Eagles next up on the agenda. The situation is so up in the air that the team's general manager has deferred to the head coach on who will start against the Eagles.

"I don't get to make that call," said Thompson. "It kind of depends on how everybody practices and goes through the week, and the bumps and the bruises get better and that sort of thing. It's almost like we're in midseason and you think you've got all these guys, and you kind of have to see how it goes through the week, and usually toward the latter part of the week you have a better feel for it."

When McCarthy was asked about the state of the running backs, his answer was not much different than former-coach Mike Sherman's a few years ago when the Packers were decimated by injuries in the backfield. But that was during the season, and not prior to the opener.

"We are who we are," said McCarthy. "The way we go about our game-planning isn't based on one position. We have some experience in some areas that we'll push to. I look for those guys to contribute. Every week is a new week. The flexibility we have in our offense we'll have to grab a hold of and push forward. I'm excited about our guys. I can't control the medical part of it. There will be a running back and his health will have a lot to do with it."

Brandon Jackson likely will be the starter against the Eagles. He returned to practice today after sustaining a concussion in practice a week ago. Vernand Morency, who has been out since the first day of training camp with a knee injury, took part in some individual drills today, but not in any team scrimmages, and his status for the Eagles game is questionable at best.

Even if Morency is in uniform on Sunday, he will be far from being in football shape, though, he downplayed that issue after practice today. Chances are, he will be eased into the mix and serve as a third-down back in place of Herron.

"It's part of football," said Morency about returning without any live tackling. "It's a mental state and my mental state is pretty darn good."

One thing for sure, Morency is eager to get back on the field, though, nobody within the organization or Morency knows if it will be against Philadelphia.

"Every day I'm here, it's getting better," he said.

Once again, the Packers will be leaning on running backs coach Edgar Bennett to get the team's young backfield ready. Bennett proved he could do it Samkon Gado and others in 2005 when the team started five running backs at different times. Now he is faced with a similar challenge, and wasted no time with newly acquired running back Ryan Grant.

"Edgar is very good at grabbing those guys. In fact he grabbed (Grant) this morning as soon as he got off the plane and had him in a closed-door session," Thompson said. "But we'll see. Philadelphia runs some fairly exotic stuff. But blitz pick-up I'm sure isn't that much different, what the Giants do than us. Now I'm sure I'll have all the coaches yelling at me that it's completely different, but we'll see."

Thompson is content with young running backs and fullbacks. After Herron was placed on injured reserve today with a knee injury, the only back with more than one season of experience is Morency. Rookie Korey Hall will be starting at fullback, most likely next to Jackson.

"It is what it is," said Thompson. "Everybody has injuries and we've had our share at that position during training camp, but time marches on, so you have to keep going at it. Like I said, it is what it is. We'd have liked for our whole group to be able to compete from day one, just like I think I've mentioned that in here before at that position, and at other positions, and we felt like we'd have a pretty good group at the end of it. That didn't happen. Vernand didn't get to go at all, and P.J. Pope was injured I think the very first day of practice, or in the Family Night scrimmage I think. So that was disappointing. Tory Humphrey was injured at the tight end position. But you just have to keep going, and you try to pick the best guys for your team, where you are at that particular time. So that's kind of where we are. But at the end of the day, we feel pretty good about this group."

For a skill position, it seems as if the Packers are closing their eyes and rolling the dice, hoping to come up big. Most teams in the league likely to do well this season have established running backs, but that's not the case in Green Bay.

Thompson is obviously hoping for the best out of the young backs. If they can perform well, he'll look like a genius, but if not, the Packers offense probably will struggle to move the ball downfield.

Todd Korth is managing editor of PackerReport.com and Packer Report magazine. E-mail him at packrepted@aol.com.

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