Green flourishing since becoming featured back
Saturday, December 16, 2000
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

of the Journal Sentinel staff

Green Bay - Ahman Green was supposed to back up Dorsey Levens this year and contribute on special teams now and then. He was just supposed to keep opponents off guard with his speed to complement Levens' brute strength.

Even as Levens battled injuries all year, he was the starter for the Green Bay Packers. Green was always the backup, a young protege.

It wasn't until a few weeks ago that the 6-foot, 217-pound Green was finally proclaimed the featured back in this offense, now that Levens is out for the rest of the year rehabilitating an injured knee.

Funny, then, that with just nine starts, the third-year halfback is 60 yards shy of his first 1,000-yard year, and with no real idea where he stands beyond the end of this season.

"We didn't know what was going to happen when Dorsey went down," Green said. "I was brought here basically to be a spot player to back up Dorsey and play special teams. To be almost to 1,000 is a great accomplishment to our whole offense and our line.

"I just came in here, said 'Tell me what to do and I will do it.' I was basically raised to be a blue-collar type of guy and work hard."

And after this year? As the Packers' leading rusher with 940 yards on 211 carries, as the leading receiver with 450 yards on 60 receptions, with 10 touchdowns overall, he has earned some credibility. He could be the first Packer in 23 years to lead the team in both rushing and receptions. But could he be the featured running back in the Green Bay offense in 2001?

"Maybe. That's a possibility, but I don't know," said Green.

Green and the rest of the Packers head to the Minneapolis Metrodome on Sunday, where the game could be faster than anything played on Lambeau Field.

"He's really playing well right now and turf is definitely our surface," said Minnesota safety Robert Griffith. "On turf, they have guys like (Allen) Rossum the kick returner and Ahman Green - those guys are really darty players. They're going to be a lot better on turf than they will be on grass."

The Packers are 0-2 (at Buffalo and Detroit) on turf this year. Starting both of those turf games, Green carried the ball 33 times for 85 yards.

"He played a lot of turf in college, so I don't think there's any doubt what he can do on turf," said Minnesota coach Dennis Green. "He has very good quickness, ability to change direction, he's a strong runner."

At Nebraska as a three-year starter from 1995-' 97, Green played on artificial turf (the Huskers have since gone to a field-turf surface). In the Big 12 Conference, Green also played on turf surfaces at Kansas, Kansas State, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and Baylor (the Bears now have grass).

Growing up fast
Speed has always been Green's trademark. When Glenda Scott gave birth to her youngest child Feb. 16, 1977, the obstetrician noted that the boy had very little fat for a baby and remarked about how sturdy and muscular his legs were. Six months later, Green was already walking.

"He's always been real fast and very coordinated," Scott said.

Green was 14 and 15 years younger than his brothers, Nicky and Jerry Paul. All of them played running back in high school, but the older boys loved to box and roughhouse with their toddler brother.

"Well, one day, he took his little fist and punched Jerry right in the eye and then ran away so fast so Jerry couldn't catch him," Scott said. "They were going to teach him to be real tough. They sure taught him, all right."

The similarities between Green Bay and Omaha are many, from the weather to the way the citizens revolve around their favorite football team. Green moved to Green Bay as soon as the team acquired him in a trade from Seattle, where he was drafted in the third round, 76th overall, in the 1998 draft.

Green settled in Green Bay because he wants to work out here in the off-season and really, the weather is no colder than where he grew up in Omaha, so it doesn't bother him. He also has asthma, something that was discovered early in his days at Nebraska, so the cold is better than hot and humid weather.

"Weather doesn't bother me," said Green. "I'm used to it."

A better grasp
The major knock against Green when he came to Green Bay was that he was fumble prone. In Green Bay, he has fumbled five times and lost four.

But his teammates and coaches have seen vast improvement in Green, in an overall sense, from pass blocking to maintaining a 4.5-yard per carry average.

"Ahman has done nothing but get better each week," Packers quarterback Brett Favre said. "The first couple of games, he'd get tackled with one arm, a guy would trip him up. Now, he's running over people. The one 30-yard run he had the other day, he stopped cold and kind of dove forward. That's the stuff you can't coach.

"The plays are kind of flowing for him, instead of him having to think through them. He's got 60-something receptions. He could have about 80, I've told him.

"His pass blocking the other day, which most people wouldn't notice, was as good as I've seen by a back in this offense. Several times it was guys he didn't have to pick up. That's what you look for in a back, things they don't have to do, or are coached to do. He's definitely making a case for being around here a long time."

Levens himself has been impressed. He has resisted filling Green's head with too much advice, but instead has watched Green grow as his responsibilities increased.

"The worst thing you can do is try to overcoach a guy," said Levens. "You've got to let each individual be an individual and let their own talents come out because what works for me may not work for him, and what works for him may not work for me."

Pick a hole
But Green isn't just good at hitting the corner, as one might assume, with his speed. While some backs are better inside, Green has run well both up the gut and around the line, and he has done it while adjusting to coach Larry Beightol's offensive line, rather than the other way around.

"Ahman's been real good up inside, too. He's gotten the tough yards," said Packers running backs coach Kippy Brown. "He may be leading the NFL in third-down conversions."

He does. Green has converted 12 of 13 third downs (92%).

Green also warms up as the game progresses and gets better with each carry. Against Detroit last week, his two touchdowns were in the fourth quarter, a 3-yard reception and a 39-yard break up the middle that secured the Packers' victory.

"He's the type of back that gets better as the game goes," said Packers coach Mike Sherman. "He needs quantity runs to get quality runs."

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