Pressure to produce: It's not easy being Green
Thursday, November 16, 2000
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
By TOM SILVERSTEIN
Of the Journal Sentinel staff
Green Bay - There's no shame in not being able to fill Dorsey Levens' shoes, but if the Green Bay Packers want to make any kind of post-season run, Ahman Green is going to have to come close to doing so.
Green is tied for the team lead in receptions (40 for 334 yards), but so far, catching the ball has been an adventure for the third-year back.
Depending on how tough you grade receivers, Green has from six to 10 dropped passes this season, which is roughly as many as Levens has had in the last five years. Two of the four times Green has fumbled have come after receptions.
The soft hands and savvy route-running brought by Levens and Edgar Bennett spoiled the Packers through most of the 1990s. For eight seasons, the team could count on having a reliable receiver coming out of the backfield.
"Levens and Bennett were rare because of their ability to catch the ball," general manager Ron Wolf said. "Edgar Bennett made the greatest catch I've ever seen. They possessed great hands.
"Ahman's hands need work. But they can get better, especially considering the offense he played in until he became a pro. I don't know that he's a novice, but he's really at an apprentice level. It's just been two years in this offense. There's no question it's an adjustment."
No time to wait
The Packers don't have time to allow Green to gradually work himself into the role, so they continue to throw him the ball just as they would the injured Levens. Unofficially, Green has been the intended receiver 47 times this season, which is 23 times fewer than wide receiver Antonio Freeman, who has the same number of catches.
Green's impact on the game Sunday against Tampa Bay was considerable (110 total yards) but it could have been so much more if he had held on to a first-half pass on third and 7 at the Packers' 45 or not fumbled after a short gain at the Packers' 39 midway through the fourth quarter.
Even a screen pass caught in the third quarter looked to be a 43-yard touchdown, but Green slowed down to make a cut rather than blasting forward full bore.
"He's explosive when he gets in the open field," offensive coordinator Tom Rossley said. "That's what we're trying to do. Some of those passes we throw to him, maybe they're not as sharp right now, but if they do ever click. . . .
"You can see there are plays to be made. He knows that. He's working at it."
Still a novice
Levens and Bennett were reliable outlets for quarterback Brett Favre when he couldn't find anything open downfield, and he quickly developed a chemistry with both of them. Green has been in the system only two years (one year with Seattle) and didn't become the full-time starter until two games ago.
The coaches continue to work with him on the receiving part of his game because they think he can be a legitimate threat who takes pressure off the other receivers. He is averaging 8.4 yards per catch, which is almost a yard more than Levens' career average.
"I think they are plays that have to be called," Rossley said. "He's a playmaker and we have to get him the ball."
Green's biggest handicap is that he comes from a college offense at Nebraska where most of the time his catches came on option pitches. Chipping defensive linemen and slipping out into the flat were foreign to him when the Seattle Seahawks drafted him in 1998.
"We passed, but not a lot to the running backs at Nebraska," Green said. "The only time I got a pass in Nebraska was on screen plays. Nothing was designed too often. I never really got to show it much in Seattle, either. Right now I'm glad I'm getting to do something in terms of pass-catching out of the backfield because it gives our offense another dynamic."
Wolf said when he scouted Green coming out of college, he thought he would make a good back in the Packers' system. He said Green appeared to have good enough hands to go along with speed measured at less than 4.4 seconds in the 40-yard dash.
Holmgren quit on him
But no one knew for sure how he would handle playing in the West Coast offense because of his college past. Former Packers coach Mike Holmgren gave up on him after one year in Seattle because he didn't think Green could hold on to the football.
Green's biggest hurdle now is balancing his role as the primary rusher with necessary catching and blocking responsibilities. There are times he has been late getting into his routes because he has been caught up in reading the blitz.
"It's easier when you've had a guy you have been working with a long time, like with what Brett and Dorsey had," quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said. "They know where each other is going to be.
"Sometimes a back will miss a block and what would Dorsey do, he would turn his head around quick because he knows he's getting the ball. It's just little things."
It remains to be seen when, or if, everything clicks in for Green. The Packers desperately need it to happen right away, but they also know it might be wishful thinking.
Still, they are sticking with him and don't plan on increasing De'Mond Parker's role significantly.
"I know he's been criticized for his drops, but he has good hands," Rossley said. "He just needs more reps and to get a better feel for it and he's going to be fine. He's working hard and getting better each time, and he's going to have more big plays than bad plays."
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