Packers Show Their Devotion To Green
Sunday, October 1, 2006
Tom Silversten

Throughout Ahman Green's recovery from a ruptured thigh tendon, his abbreviated training camp and his early season attempt to shake off the rust and be the running back he once was, the Green Bay Packers have stood behind the ninth-year veteran 100 percent.

They were so sure of his return that they released backup Najeh Davenport, traded young Samkon Gado, put promising rookie Arliss Beach on injured reserve and kept Noah Herron, whose National Football League experience consisted of seven games and 48 carries.

In three games, their devotion to Green couldn't be more apparent. He has 58 of the running backs' 66 carries (87.8 percent), 17 of their 23 receptions (73.9 percent) and 15 of their 21 first downs (71.4 percent). He plays on both running downs and third downs and comes out of the game only when he needs a breather.

It's not such a bad idea to put your faith in a five-time 1,000-yard rusher but in a lead-up to the Packers' matchup with the Philadelphia Eagles Monday night at Lincoln Financial Field, Green's availability is questionable with a hamstring injury. There's a pretty good chance he'll play tonight but it marks the second straight week he has suffered a hamstring pull.

Such is the risk of pinning your hopes on a 29-year-old halfback with 1,779 professional carries under his belt and a major leg injury in his past. Should the Packers be without Green, they'll turn to speedy Vernand Morency to fill the void and give their sluggish running game whatever they can.

"We'll get on track," running backs coach Edgar Bennett said, preferring to think of the running game as an 11-man operation and not just the work of one running back.

Assuming Morency gets some carries - and it's likely he will regardless of Green's status - it will be interesting to see if his speed and explosiveness offer anything to the running game that Green hasn't thus far. Green's 3.7-yard rushing average isn't up to par with his career mark of 4.6 going into this season and he hasn't had a run longer than 14 yards.

Of course, the ineffectiveness of the running game begins with the blockers, most of whom are making the transition to a zone blocking system they haven't run before. In general, Green hasn't seen many holes wider than his shoulder pads and it's not that surprising he's off to a slow start.

But Green has made yards on his own before and his inability to do so lately could be a sign of a physical decline.

Opinions vary among current or former NFL officials about Green. When asked, one thought he was washed up, one thought he had a chance to have the same success he once did and another thought he wouldn't be the same back but still had a chance to be productive.

"I think he's solid," said Fox analyst and former San Francisco general manager Terry Donahue, who offered the last of the three opinions. "At one time he was one of the upper echelon backs. Then there's the quad and he's gotten older and those things affect you.

"But I will say this: He can be a productive back. By that I mean he'll be over 1,000 yards. He can still get a lot of yards for the Packers."

Donahue remembers 49ers back Garrison Hearst coming back from a horrific leg injury in the 1998 playoffs and then returning in 2001 for three more productive seasons, including one in which he rushed for 1,000 yards. He compares Green's situation to Hearst's.

"I marveled at that guy being as productive as he was," Donahue said of Hearst. "Was he his old self? No. But he played very well and helped his team."

As you would expect, the Packers subscribe to the optimistic outlook. They don't see Green losing a lot from two years ago, when he was last healthy.

"I haven't put a watch on him," offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski said. "I know what I've seen in practice. He still has that burst. I don't know if he's Nebraska fast. He was an exceptional speed guy coming out. Time-wise, I don't know, but he's still fast and has that extra burst. He still has that."

On several occasions in the Packers' 31-24 victory over the Detroit Lions, there appeared to be times Green did not gain as much yardage as possible. A couple of them were runs and one was a screen pass on which he had only a safety to beat. The safety had the angle on him, but Green could have put his shoulder down and forced him to make a difficult tackle, but instead he tried to juke him and wound up running out of bounds.

It's possible Green was fatigued on that play, but it was early enough in the game that he shouldn't have been.

"You don't want to leave yards on the field and I think he understands that," Bennett said. "But also have to look at the big picture. The more he continues to play, the more he sees it, just his natural instincts will take over.

"I think as far as the mechanics, his timing, his setup (on the screen) were fine. You have to continue to see it and react to what you see. That's how I look at it."

Green also has to hang on to the football. His fumble late in the game against Detroit was an egregious error that would have gotten some players benched. But that's something Green has been able to minimize as a season wears on.

Another option at halfback, Morency, offers a change of pace. He is more of a dancer but can also make a hard cut into the hole and take it all the way if he gets into the secondary. Green hasn't had the opportunity to take one the distance so it's still uncertain whether he has the speed that allowed him to go 98 yards for a touchdown three years ago against Denver.

What the Packers see is someone who can still explode off his first cut and get into the hole quickly. Others aren't sure if he'll ever flash that blazing speed he once had or run over people the way he once did.

In the zone system, Green must pick a hole and go at it with no hesitation. The Packers don't seem concerned that Green hasn't been able to bounce outside or take the play in a different direction when nothing is there because that isn't his style and it's not how they're teaching the system.

"I think he's playing hard; I think he's running hard," general manager Ted Thompson said. "He's picking up some tough yards. He's doing fine. I think he'll get better. I don't think there's anything that would lead you to think physiologically he's not as explosive as he was. A lot of it is opportunity."

And given the Packers' devotion to Green, he'll get plenty of that.

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