No Worries about Packers Running Backs

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Brandon Saine
Packers RB Brandon Saine

Packers running back Ryan Grant is set to hit the open market and, in my opinion, likely won’t return to Green Bay. Once Grant signs elsewhere, get ready for a segment of Packers fans to start clamoring for Ted Thompson to sign or draft Grant’s replacement.

If a RB high on Thompson’s draft board is out there, he very well could draft him, but don’t expect Thompson to reach for a RB based on a perceived need. And if you’re holding your breath that Thompson will sign a name free agent RB or trade for one, exhale now. If a RB comes to the Packers from a different team, it’ll be a guy that nobody has heard of, like Grant was.

Don’t be surprised if Thompson rolls with the RBs currently on the roster. If he chooses that route, it shouldn’t worry Packers fans at all.

James Starks had a disappointing and injury-filled 2011, but he showed he had the talent to be a competent every-down back if he can stay on the field. Hopefully a full offseason builds Starks’s endurance and makes him a stronger player. It’d be nice if he learned to be a little more decisive, too.

Brandon Saine’s main job was catching swing/screen passes, building a head of steam, and plowing forward after initial contact. The undrafted rookie seems versatile and able to do a variety of things out of the backfield, sort of like Grant. We know way too little about Saine to declare him anything but a longshot, but with some seasoning in pass protection, I could see him as a third-down back.

Alex Green blew out his knee halfway through the season and likely will start slowly in 2012, maybe even on the physically unable to perform list. Before the injury, Green didn’t get many opportunities. The Packers seemed to envision Green as the type of all-around back they target: Someone that won’t blow you away, but is able to do everything you ask him to do at a mostly competent level. Green will be a wild card in 2012. If healthy, he should improve later in the season.

By now, we all know what we’re getting with John Kuhn. He blocks, he catches, and every now and then, he plows into the end zone. It’ll be interesting to see if the Packers stick TEs Tom Crabtree or D.J.Williams in the backfield as a fullback at all this season.

Does that list of RBs blow you away? Is it full of potential 1,400-yard rushers? No. But the Packers don’t need that. They won 15 games last season with a running game that never hit it’s stride.

The key to the Packers running game will be the offensive line. Thanks to injuries, the line never got rolling last season. If Bryan Bulaga moves to the left side and the Packers find a more powerful blocker to replace Scott Wells at center (if it comes to that), the line — if healthy — might actually improve in the running game.

Mike McCarthy has already said the Packers will be a little more creative running the football this season.

Sure, it’d be nice to have Adrian Peterson or some college stud that wowed everybody with highlight-reel runs on SportsCenter. But you don’t need that to succeed in today’s NFL. You’re better off focusing your resources elsewhere and trying to find good value at RB.

I’m sure Thompson will bring in at least one more RB through the draft or off the scrap heap of another team. That’s what the Packers have done under Thompson and McCarthy and I don’t expect it to change any time soon.

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Adam Czech is a freelance reporter and a Packers fan living in the Twin Cities. Follow Adam on Twitter. Read more of Adam's writing on the Packers here.

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  • Zack

    Thank you so much for writing this… I was starting to think I was the only one who thought this. Not worried about getting 7 yds\ carry just a steady run game is fine. I’d take a stud pass rusher over Adrian Peterson any day of the week.

  • Savage57

    Two words – blitz pick-up (allright, three). That is the biggest concern that I have about substituting another no-name back for Grant.

    I understand the contract issues surrounding Grant, but it’s probable that Rodgers’ contract gets restructured this season. Why wouldn’t TT spend a few more dollars with a KNOWN quantity to protect that investment than to take another Cullen Jenkins/Mike Neal gamble? The stakes in this one are much higher.

    Starks has had way too many whiffs and blown blocking assignments to feel good about him being back there the majority of snaps. Sure there’s Kuhn, but use him too much and the running threat is diminished.

    I hope that both TT and RG find a number that works for both sides. Grant wants a ring and TT NEEDS every body possible to help keep AR healthy, otherwise the wheels fall off the wagon.

    • Zack

      Yeah but wwuldn’t you say grant was as bad as starks at blitz pickup? brandon jacobs was our blitz pick up guy and no one has really filled that role since he left.

      • Savage57

        I thought the consensus was that was one of Grant’s strong suits.

        • Bearmeat

          It wasn’t until this past year. He worked on it. Amazing what someone right behind your shoulder wanting your job can do for personal motivation…

          • Adam Czech

            Grant got better at blitz pickup last year. It’s an important skill, but I think we overrate it. Remember how worried we got when Jackson signed w/ Cleveland last year? He was GB’s blitz pickup guy and we didn’t miss him at all.

            In my opinion, blitz pickup falls more on the QB. Recognize the blitz. Make your read. Get rid of the ball.

      • Bubbaloo

        Brandon Jacobs? Thought he was one of our nemesis’!

        • Zack

          sorry meant jackson mis wrote lol, =P

          • Zack

            or mis thought one of the two.

  • Pete Kliman

    I Don’t know how long we can continue winning at this pace and keep Rogers healthy, especially in frigid Green Bay, without a very solid running game.Starks is a good back who will always struggle with injuries and because of this we need another solid back. Grant is fine at 1yr./2mill,but I would like to see some new blood.There might be an FA available at a good price.I find Hillis very tempting because of his power . I just wish he could catch the ball better. A good back might fall to us in the draft ,but only in the 3rd round .

    • Bearmeat

      Come on Pete –

      Name a team that has won the super bowl in the past 8 years with a ‘very solid’ running game. Heck, you can’t even name a team that has gotten to a super bowl featuring the run since da Bears. And we all know they didn’t deserve to be there.

      Fact: You only need a halfway not ugly running game to keep defenses honest in today’s NFL.

      • Adam Czech

        Run to set up the pass. That’s what I call it anyway.

      • Pete Kliman

        08-Giants, 06-Steelers. Also Dillon of the Patriots was very solid for Patriots.

    • Zack

      I won’t endorse paying big bucks for a rusher or for that matter paying much more than what we are right now. I like our running game value packs throughout the years and think we should and will continue to take that approach. Don’t like the idea of picking up FA I think there should be better values in the draft if they wanted to bring someone in. But I think we have what we need right now as long as someone develops in pass protection. I’d say teams have had more and more luck finding good backs later in the draft or even as undrafted fa’s… look at Arian Foster (sp?)… and starks and grant. all those guys were found late or undrafted. don’t think we have to burn an early pick if they want to bring in help plus we need those picks for improvements on defense and possibly Wells’ replacement. Agreed running would help keep Rodgers healthy to some degree but the real answer to keeping him healthy is maintaining our elite o-line and developing a a back who excels at pass protection. We’re going to be a pass happy offense… it’s just the way our team is built. Hoping for much more talented rb’s than what we have is wishful thinking.

  • BubbaOne

    1st) I’m not sure Grant is gone. There may not be a big market for a 29 yr old RB plus it may be a soft FA market…http://www.nationalfootballpost.com/Are-signs-pointing-to-a-soft-free-agent-market.html
    2nd) Alex Green 8 1/2 months after surgery probably will not be at full strength to start TC. So TT will have to bring in someone if Grant doesn’t return.
    3rd)W/ what I believe will be three 4th round picks I think he takes a RB from a deep mid-round list: Isaiah Pead, Chris Polk, Robert Turbin, Ronnie Hillman, LaMichael James, Dan Herron, Terrance Ganaway, and Cyrus Gray.
    BTW-Ganaway may develop into a more athletic, faster John Kuhn.

  • Ron LC

    The way MM uses the running game requires a consistent player who isn’t looking for league wide reognition. Zach is right! Let’s get that D rush and tackling straightened out then, Oline depth and DB depth, then RB.

  • BTF

    Before Green went down I was 100% sure Grant would not be in GB this year-now with him coming back from an ACL and Starks seemingly fragile I wouldn’t be suprised to see a deal worked out. Don’t see us drafting a RB either way or if I think 6th /7th round is likely ..

    • Oppy

      We’ve rolled into a season with only 2 HB’s on the roster before.

      I think the determining factor as to Grant returning or not won’t be so much the price tag. but more a matter of philosophy.. Do the Packers feel good about their young backs? Do they feel the investment in developing those young backs will outweigh the immediate production of Grant?

      I wouldn’t be surprised to see Grant resigned, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they let Grant walk- even if Green was to be IR’d- and just roll with Starks and Saine.

      Crazier shizzle has happened at 1225.

      • Oppy

        I’m going to also mention, Ryan Grant is a guy who had to take a pay cut to ensure his place on the roster last season…soooooo…. that kinda sends you a vibe about how the Packers might feel about their young backs potential vs. Ryan Grant’s experience.

        Grant did have a good 2nd half of the season, though. His big run on the Lions to close out the regular season, he looked like the Grant of seasons past.

        • Zack

          Yeah I think they said that he finally fully recovered from his injury at that point. he proved he’s still got some ability.

          I really hope we don’t go into the season with only 2 working rb’s in this case… Starks is made of glass and Saine has a lot of question marks and has his limits. Ryan Grant is a good value back and we could use the reassurance of a solid vet in case starks breaks. Plus, like you said, he started looking good at the end of the season. I think that will carry into next year. Maybe he’ll be our featured back for a year or two more before he hangs up his cleats.

      • Pete Kliman

        That’s insane. lol

  • Lou

    You have to love Stark’s take it to the defense all out effort but he has yet to play a full season without injury in college or the pro’s and he does get caught from behind. Yes, he had several lapses in assignments last year which McCarthy blamed on sitting out hurt too much. Grant is tough as nails, a team leader, and still has the burst required to take it to the house, my guess is he is back. His 200 plus yards in the snow against Seattle in the playoffs show he can do it in the big games as well. The instincts and burst shown by Green in the pre-season can’t be taught, he has the ability, the injury was a shame. Saine is a less talented version of Dorsey Levens, does everything well. Kuhn is Kuhn, a fan favorite and overachiever. The backs are better than the press cares to admit.

  • Shavager

    Giants’ Brandon Jacobs is available in FA now–tough RB. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Grant back, especially if Green doesn’t return healthy and no quality RB is picked in draft. I disagree that Packers can just throw the ball and run up a 15-2 season again. McCarthy needs a “creative” run scheme that keeps defense off balance and RB’s that can perform without injury-last season only Grant and Kuhn were injury free.

    • Zack

      I don’t think we did just throw this year. We ran enough to let teams know that we still have capable backs and then let Rodgers take over. We averaged 4 yds/ carry and got a couple big runs when other teams disrespected our ability to run. I don’t want much more than that because then the player will expect a big pay day when his contract expires. I’m happy with an average steady run game. we have that luxury with an elite QB like Rodgers.

  • darren

    thank you ted thompson for letting that piece of shit grant go. one of the worst backs we have ever had cant stand watching him run straight into our own guys and right into the pile learn to juke and bounce to the outside you rookie!!!