Camp Preview: Running Backs

Starks (Benny Sieu - USA Today Sports)

What do we know (and what don't we know), and what will be the big battle at running back when training camp starts on Friday, July 26? That and more in this sneak peak at the Packer Report Magazine draft preview edition.

WHAT WE KNOW

Mel and Tim formed the soul duo who sang the 1969 hit, "Backfield in Motion."

They also sang, "Starting All Over Again."

Both of which are appropriate for the Packers' running back corps.

The backfield is in motion, indeed, with the addition of second-round pick Eddie Lacy and fourth-round pick Johnathan Franklin. Thus, the Packers will be starting all over again to develop a running game that produced a 22nd-ranked 3.9 yards per carry in 2012, a 26th-ranked 3.9 in 2011 and a 27th-ranked 3.8 in 2010.

"We have to get in pads to find out what's real and what's perception," coach Mike McCarthy said. "We'll be better, I promise you that. Big letters."


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WHAT WE DON'T KNOW

Just who will make good on McCarthy's promise is the big unknown.

Lacy wasn't overly impressive during the offseason practices, but at 230 pounds, his time to shine will be when the pads come on and he has the opportunity to run through tacklers.

"Something like that," Lacy said with a knowing smile. "For a bigger back, practice is a little harder with just helmets on. When we get in the pads, it will be a lot more physical."

Franklin stood out immediately. Not only did he show burst to get through a hole and excellent hands out of the backfield, but he showed potential as a third-down back. Two plays stood out, again, with the caveat of these not being full-contact practices: On one, he picked up Mike Neal, who was blitzing from outside linebacker; on another, he stepped up in the middle to block Johnny Jolly, who outweighs Franklin by more than 100 pounds.

Barring an injury, Lacy and Franklin are all but ensured roster spots. That leaves James Starks, Alex Green and DuJuan Harris in limbo, and undrafted Angelo Pease as a wild card. Of the three holdovers, Harris had far and away the best production and would seem to be on relatively safe footing entering camp. Including playoffs, Harris averaged 4.15 yards per carry and rushed for four touchdowns in his six games. All the other running backs combined averaged 3.38. Neither Starks (3.59 average) nor Green (3.44) were active for the two playoff games, as McCarthy thought Harris and past-his-prime Ryan Grant were better options.

If either Starks or Green are considered the odd man out, perhaps the edge goes to Green for getting one more chance. Starks, who is entering his final season under contract, has played in 22 of a possible 48 regular-season games. Green, with two years left on his contract, tore his ACL early as a rookie in 2011 and wasn't 100 percent in 2012. Thus, the Packers probably don't know what they've got in the former third-round choice.

"I think we've got flashes and glimpses from before the injury," running backs coach Alex Van Pelt said. "I'll tell you, that's a tough kid in the room. The guy worked his butt off through all that stuff last year and came back and didn't play at 100 percent and never complained one time. I know I've got a hard worker. I'm excited to see him another year healthier and his explosion and everything he brought to the table before the injury."

BATTLE TO WATCH

Fullback: Whoever survives at running back, McCarthy will probably use a rotation based on matchups, situations and hot hands. There could be some intrigue, however, at fullback. John Kuhn does everything well but, with Lacy, he probably won't be needed as the short-yardage back and, with Franklin, probably won't be needed as the third-down back, either. Thus, Kuhn's importance to the roster goes down tremendously, considering he's never been the best blocker. Undrafted Jonathan Amosa was a powerful blocker at Washington. If that transfers to the NFL and he shows he can catch an occasional checkdown, this could be an unexpectedly hot battle.

NUMBER TO NOTE

2.2: Starks averaged 2.2 yards after contract and Green averaged 2.1. According to ProFootballFocus.com, 59 running backs had at least Starks' total of 71 rushes. Only 21 averaged 2.2 yards or less after contact. Harris, in 34 regular-season carries, averaged 2.8 after contact.

QUOTEWORTHY

Van Pelt, on managing reps in training camp: "There's limited reps and a lot of guys rolling through right now. It'll sort itself out, but I do look at reps and I do try and fit the style of runs that we're having on that day to the back. Eddie may get more of the two-back stuff, or Johnathan might get more of the single-back stuff, and James (as) a bigger body (is) more of the two back. More the style of the run, trying to split the reps up so guys can feel comfortable in the role we feel we'll have for them during the season."


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.

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