Ten Packers Training Camp Topics: #1 — The Main Event

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The Packers spent two draft picks on running backs, but could DuJuan Harris steal the starting job?
The Packers spent two draft picks on running backs, but could DuJuan Harris steal the starting job?

Quick. Think of a more anticipated Packers training-camp battle in recent years than this summer’s competition at running back. Good luck.

In 2012, the running back position saw a great deal of turnover. Desperate for a true feature back, the Packers opted to sign veteran Cedric Benson during the preseason. But Benson went down with a Lisfranc injury, opening the door for 2011 third-round pick Alex Green.

When Green failed to take full advantage of his opportunity, James Starks got a chance to prove his worth. Outside of a few nice runs, Starks was pretty average in his six regular-season appearances.

But late in the season, the team got a massive boost from journeyman DuJuan Harris. Just months after selling used cars in Florida, Harris was the feature back for the No. 3 seed in the NFC Playoffs.

In six games with the Packers between the regular season and the playoffs, Harris carried the ball 62 times for 257 yards, an average of 4.1 yards per carry. While not spectacular, that’s a sizable upgrade over Benson’s average of 3.5, Green’s 3.4 and Starks’s 3.6.

Harris also scored four touchdowns in those six games.

This will be his first offseason with the Packers, and he’ll face the stiffest competition at the position in recent memory. Leading up to this year’s draft, Eddie Lacy was considered by most to be the best running back available, possibly cracking the first round and Johnathan Franklin was thought to be a surefire second rounder before falling to the Packers in the fourth round.

The rookies have yet to show what they can do in full pads, but there’s certainly reason to be excited about both. Lacy provides the Packers with their most physical running back in some time, and Franklin appears to be a natural fit within the Packers’ fast-paced, spread offense.

Franklin joined us last month at Packers Talk Radio Network for an interview.

Prior to the draft, I considered Franklin to be the second-best running back in the draft, behind Giovani Bernard and just ahead of Lacy. Ultimately, teams were scared off by Franklin’s small frame and ball-security issues which were on display through his first three years at UCLA. But fresh off his senior season in which he racked up over 2,000 total yards, Franklin expected to hear his name called much earlier than he actually did.

“It was a humbling experience for me,” Franklin said. “I was hearing probably late first round, early second round or perhaps third at the latest. On (Day 2) I had my family over, I had cameras there and I didn’t get drafted.”

Still, Franklin feels fortunate to have landed where he did. And of the three primary competitors vying for the team’s starting spot, Franklin may be the most natural fit for what the Packers have liked to do offensively the past few years.

But there’s been plenty of offseason talk about the Packers getting more physical at the point of attack. If they want to become a more hard-nosed, knock-your-block-off kind of football team, Lacy will likely play a big role within the offense. If they try that brand of football and it doesn’t work, perhaps they revert back to what they know and spread the field, in which case Franklin may be the team’s best option.

It’d be a surprise of epic proportions if the Packers were to keep five running backs. In all likelihood, either Green or Starks will be cut or traded after training camp. It would also be a mild surprise if Green or Starks poses a serious threat for the starting spot.

It’s going to come down to the late-season hero Harris, the battering ram Lacy or the all-purpose Franklin.

Question: Who will be the Packers’ opening-day starter at running back?

Injuries happen at all positions, but running backs take perhaps the biggest beating of any position. At some point during the season, chances are that more than one running back will “start” a game for the Packers.

As far as who makes the team? I think it’s Lacy, Franklin, Harris and Green. The team finally gives Starks the boot after three injury-marred seasons. And don’t rule out the possibility of the team keeping just three backs, as they could potentially stash undrafted rookie Angelo Pease on the practice squad.

Best guess: Eddie Lacy

But on opening day against the San Francisco 49ers, I think Eddie Lacy will be out there with the starters.

I wasn’t big on Lacy leading up to the draft. By no means was I Anti-Lacy; I just didn’t think he was a first-round pick. The Packers had no choice but to grab him in the second round when he was still on the board at No. 61. Between Lacy, Harris and Franklin, this could be the Packers’ most talented backfield in quite some time.

The coaching staff has been preaching a more physical brand of football for a while now, and the second-round selection of Lacy reeks of an increased emphasis on the ground game.


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Marques is a Journalism student, serving as the Sports Editor of UW-Green Bay\'s campus newspaper The Fourth Estate and a Packers writer at Jersey Al\'s AllGBP.com. Follow Marques on Twitter @MJEversoll.


10 thoughts on “Ten Packers Training Camp Topics: #1 — The Main Event

  1. I say we keep Starks and trade Green or just cut him. I was very excited about when we drafted him but after watching him play now and i understand he had a bad injury it would drive me insane to see this dude get tackled by his shoestrings all season. If you blew on him he fell. I know Starks has injury problems but he is the better runner. He just needs to stay on the field. So i say Lacy, Franklin, Harris, and Starks

    1. Packers were really excited about Green his rookie year, once he got to know the playbook. He was about to take on a much more significant role just at the time he tore the ACL. Last year it was obvious he hadn’t gain the strength and explosiveness back yet (its the last thing to return after an ACL) and he still had significant pain/soreness/swelling. He tried to play thru it but it got worse, not better. ACL’s are unpredictable in recovery. This year Green will have all the pain/soreness behind him and he’ll have regained the strength and explosiveness. He’ll be a vastly different RB this year. There’s every reason to be excited about Green this year!

  2. I like Dujuan Harris. He earned the job behind a very average line, with an emphasis on earned. For a guy who was out of the game to come into the fray as he did, he has the stuff.

    I am pulling for Lacy and Franklin to prove themselves at the next level and if they do, we have a solid backfield for a season. Of course, the O-line needs to improve this year if this offense is going to live up to potential.

    I have no use for Starks and doubt that Alex Green has more than he has shown us to date. Time to move on from these placeholders. I do like the Angelo Pease on the practice squad idea.

  3. Maybe Starks at FB leading Lacy for the short yardage. otherwise: Lacy, Franklin, Harris, (Green & Starks) traded for picks maybe?

    1. There’s rumors (and ample video evidence) that Starks cannot grasp pass protection. In fact, cheeseheadtv crunched the stats and McCarthy had Starks in for an incredibly small percentage of snaps on pass plays when he was in a timeshare at RB last year.

      This and his injury history will force the packers to cut him this year. I’d guess they’ve already made their mind up about him but there’s no point to cutting him before camp, as there may be injuries at the RB position.

  4. I would like to see Lacy win the starting job right out of training camp. Hope that’s what happens. I want to see the Packers come out opening week and run Lacy right at the 9ers D playing 6 or 7 in the box. If that happens, the Packers could send a huge message that you have to play them honestly and that’ll open up the passing game again.

  5. I still would have rather the Pack had picked up Steven Jackson as a FA.He could fit in right now & they still could have picked up Lacy or Franklin & used the other pick on a more pressing need while they developed either rookie. I’d say right now we have more running backs in camp than we need, Lacy Franklin, Harris & one of the others.Unless you block for them, they’re not going anywhere.

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