If you’re looking for a position group on the Packers roster that might be infiltrated by an undrafted free agent, running back is a strong possibility.
Ryan Grant is likely gone, James Starks can’t stay healthy, Alex Green is coming off a bad knee injury and Brandon Saine is unproven. Here’s a look at the Packers 2012 undrafted free agent running backs and why they might have a shot at making the team.
Duane Bennett, RB, Minnesota
Weight: 213 pounds
Pro Day Results: 40-yd. dash — 4.62; 20-yd dash — 2.70; 10-yd. dash — 1.56; 225-lb. bench reps — 28; Vertical jump — 35.5″; Broad jump — 10’00″; 20-yd shuttle — 4.16; 3-cone drill — 6.92.
Career Notes: Finished with 2,126 rushing yards, 13th in Gophers history. … 639 rushing yards on 166 carries (3.85 avg.) senior season. … 96-yard kickoff return for TD against Wisconsin week 10 of senior season. … Blocked a punt and returned it for TD senior season. … Earned freshman All-Big Ten honors. … Sophomore season ended after two games due to knee injury.
Because I live in Minnesota, I get a chance to see the Gophers play on a regular basis. The Gophers are usually a chore to watch, but they had a few intriguing teams under Glen Mason. Using offensive lineman that were a bit undersized but extremely mobile, Mason built the Gophers’ offense around a running game that featured guys like Marion Barber III, Laurence Maroney, Thomas Hamner and Gary Russell.
After Mason left, the Gophers went from being a mediocre team that was somewhat fun to watch to a terrible team that is painful to watch. Those impressive offensive lines and dynamic running backs now seem like a distant memory, especially the offensive lines. Just ask Duane Bennett.
Bennett was recruited by Mason and kept his committment to the Gophers after Mason was fired. Because Bennett was a Mason recruit, and because Minnesota’s offensive line has been abysmal in the post-Mason era, I have some hope that Bennett might be a better player than his college stats indicate.
Bennett is strong, his 28 bench press reps at Minnesota’s pro day would’ve tied for the most among running back at the NFL combine. He’s also overcome a serious knee injury and makes an impact on special teams. He looked indecisive at times in college, but it was hard to tell if he was actually indecisivie or if the Gophers line was so bad that he just didn’t know what to do with himself.
After catching 33 passes his sophomore season, he never caught more than 18 after. But again, the decline could be a product of the Gophers’ offense being a mess.
Bennett doesn’t have one specific skill that makes you turn your head, but he’s got enough tools to make you at least pay attention. And who knows, on a competent team with a decent offensive line, maybe he’ll emerge.
Marc Tyler, RB, USC
Weight: 218 pounds
NFL Combine: 40-yd Dash — 4.72; Bench Press — 19 reps; Broad Jump — 110″; Vertical — 30.5″.
Career Notes: 5-star recruit out of Oak Christian High in California. … Broke leg during the postseason of senior season. … Ran for 913 yards as a junior and 568 yards as a senior. … Ran for 15 touchdowns and caught two more in career.
Because of where he went to school and a highly publicized off-field incident, Marc Tyler is the most well-known of the Packers undrafted free agent running backs.
Tyler, the son of former NFL all-pro Wendell Tyler was highly recruited and expected to become another in a long line of USC superstars who achieved NFL success. Tyler achieved plenty of fame, but it was because of this video instead of anything he did on the field.
The “They breaking bread” video, combined with separate incidents involving accusations of spitting on a woman and groping another resulted in a one-game suspension and further tarnished a career that got off to a painful start.
Tyler broke his tibia and fibula late in his senior year of high school. After redshirting at USC in 2007, Tyler didn’t play much in 2008 and 2009 before rushing for 913 yards and nine touchdowns in 2010. After the video and suspension, Tyler ran for just 568 yards and four touchdowns his senior season.
Tyler won’t run away from many defenders, his 4.72 time in the 40-yard dash is proof of that. But he’s a tough runner with good vision and a high football IQ who could make the roster as a short-yardage back or a scrapper who carves a niche on special teams and works his way up.
While Bennett is looking to prove what he can do with a good offensive line, Tyler will be trying to prove that he’s more than the troublemaker and underachiever that many labeled him at USC. We’ll find out if a change in scenery leads to success on the field and a roster spot with the Packers.
Nicholas Cooper, RB, Winston-Salem St.
Weight: 240 pounds
Pro Day Results: 40-yd Dash — 4.73; Bench Press — 19 reps.
Career Notes: Sat out 2009 to focus on academics. … Rushed for 3,430 yards in career, fourth-most in school history. … Finished with 43 career TDs. … Ran for 1,808 yards and 22 TDs final season. … Led Winston-Salem St. to a win over New Haven in the Division II quarterfinals with 132 yards and a touchdown.
Don’t look for Nicholas Cooper to compete with Bennett and Tyler for a spot at running back. Instead, Cooper will likely fight for a spot behind John Kuhn as an extra fullback.
The Kuhn-Cooper tandem has nickname potential if Cooper makes the team. Since Kuhn starred at Division II Shippensburg, Pa. and Cooper at Winston-Salem St., I’m going to call them the “D2 Wrecking Crew.”
Fullback is an unpredictable position with the Packers. They kept three fullbacks in 2010 and only one in 2011. Who knows what they’ll do this season, but I’m betting that Cooper has a lot of work to do in order to make the team.
Unless Cooper blows people away, I can’t see the Packers sacrificing other positions so they can keep an extra fullback around. We’ve also seen tight ends Tom Crabtree and D.J. Williams line up in the backfield in an H-back/fullback type of role, so its not like the Packers are desperate for another big body in the backfield.
A wild card in the Packers backfield is running back. If a running back gets hurt or flops in camp, perhaps Kuhn will see time at halfback and there will be a spot for another fullback.
Personally, I’m pulling for Cooper. I like how “Kuuuuuuuuuuhn” sounds when fans at Lambeau get fired up. “Cooooooop” also would have a nice ring to it.
Click here to watch Cooper in action in the Division II playoffs against New Haven.