Is Harris the real deal?
Not since Ryan Grant put together back-to-back 1,200-yard seasons have the Packers had a consistent, go-to running back to carry the load. While the team certainly has options at the position, Harris showed down the stretch that he was equal to the task. Even though the Packers have the look of one of those maddening teams for fantasy footballers – one with no clear-cut lead back – head coach Mike McCarthy did say at the annual NFL Meetings in Arizona in March that he’d prefer to have an every-down back. If the compact 5-foot-8, 203-pound Harris seizes the opportunity, he just might be that guy.
On the rise
The third-year back failed to make the most of his opportunity to be the team’s starting running back after Cedric Benson was lost for the season to a foot injury on Oct. 7, but as it turns out, it wasn’t all Green’s fault. After seeing his rookie season end in October 2011 with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee, Green’s comeback from the injury had him back in time for training camp but began to have problems with the knee after the bye week, as scar tissue built up and he lost range of motion and confidence in it. Not everyone comes back from an ACL like Adrian Peterson, clearly. Now healthy and having gotten plenty of work in OTAs and minicamp, don’t dismiss him as a contender. “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. The guys 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.”
Player to watch
Retired Packers general manager Ron Wolf was fond of saying that you could never rule someone “in” based on what you saw in offseason minicamps in shorts and helmets, but you could certainly rule someone “out,” as he did with a few of his draft picks that never amounted to anything. That said, Franklin sure grabbed your attention if you were on the sideline during the team’s offseason OTAs. The 5-foot-10, 205-pound rookie showed burst and acceleration with the ball under his arm, has the ability to catch out of the backfield and could also factor into the return game as a possible kickoff returner, which would allow wide receiver Randall Cobb to focus more on playing offense.
Starting running back.
Based on draft pedigree, the Packers’ greatest investment has been in Lacy, a first-round player who deep into the second round because of lingering injury concerns from his time at Alabama. The others – Green (third round), Franklin (fourth round), Starks (sixth round), Harris (street free agent who entered the league as an undrafted free agent) and Pease (undrafted rookie free agent) – came into the league with less fanfare. Historically, GM Ted Thompson hasn’t viewed the position with much urgency, either. In his previous eight drafts in Green Bay, Thompson had selected a not-so-grand total of six running backs or fullbacks: Brandon Jackson (second round), fullback Korey Hall (sixth round) and halfback DeShawn Wynn (seventh) in 2007; fullback Quinn Johnson (fifth) in 2009; Starks (sixth) in 2010; and Green (third) in 2011. Now, he used two relatively high picks on the position, and has three holdovers who’ve all started games in the past. This should be a whale of a battle.
In the 2013 NFL Draft, 26 running backs were selected. The Packers took two of the first seven. Before the Packers took Lacy at No. 61, the Cincinnati Bengals took North Carolina’s Giovani Bernard at No. 37; the Pittsburgh Steelers took Le’Veon Bell at No. 48 and the Denver Broncos took Montee Ball at No. 58. Then came Lacy at No. 61, followed by Texas A&M’s Christine Michael going to the Seattle Seahawks at No. 62 and Arkansas’ Knile Davis going to the Kansas City Chiefs at No. 96. Franklin, who like Lacy expected to be drafted earlier, went at No. 125, as the Packers traded up into the fourth round to take him as a value pick.
“Oh yeah, there’s no question. There’s limited reps and a lot of guys rolling through. It’ll play itself out as we go forward – as the young guys get more in tune with what we’re doing, they’ll get more reps. In camp I’d expect those (rookie backs) to step right in and see how they retain, see how they function in the no-huddle. 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 a bigger body 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.” – Van Pelt, on if dividing up snaps in practice will be a challenge.
Next: Wide receivers.
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.