Green Bay — For a couple hours — before news of his delayed flight broke — Steven Jackson Fever set in. The possibility of Jackson visiting Green Bay, even if it was for a Rawlings appearance, triggered Twitter pandemonium.
Since Jackson voided the final year of his contract with the St. Louis Rams this off-season, he has been pegged by fans and analysts alike as a perfect fit in the Green Bay Packers' offense. That may be true. And quite possibly, the fit is Alabama’s Eddie Lacy, Wisconsin’s Montee Ball or another back in the NFL draft.
Or --- gasp! --- maybe the Packers are absolutely fine with what they already have at running back. That’s how the team’s all-time leading rusher sees it, anyways. Ahman Green was adamant. The Packers, he says, have more than enough ammo at running back already in DuJuan Harris, Alex Green, James Starks and Cedric Benson if he’s re-signed.
There’s no need to pursue a Jackson, a Lacy, anybody, he said.
“There’s no need because the backs that are all here are all proven in my opinion,” said Green, who's now an analyst for WFRV-TV in Green Bay. “They’ve all proved themselves to be a starter for this team. They’ve all proven themselves in any game they played in last year or the year before.”
At various points these last two seasons, Harris, Alex Green, Starks, Benson and Ryan Grant have, indeed, been featured as a No. 1 back. Results varied. Injuries have been constant. The mid-season pick-up Harris had the final say with 170 yards and two touchdowns over Green Bay's last three games. Yes, Ahman Green heard Mike McCarthy’s comments at the NFL scouting combine, that the "three-down back is what you want to play with." And the four-time Pro Bowler believes that player, that workhorse back is on the roster.
“Going for the draft or going for free agency, I don’t think it’s a must thing for the Packers,” Green said. “It’s something that’s not a necessity to draft a back or go after Steven Jackson in free agency. If they sit down and talk about it, they know what a healthy Cedric Benson can do. Really, with any of the running backs — Green, Starks, DuJuan, Cedric — the offense got moving."
Of course, Ahman Green is the one player who knows what it takes -- physically and mentally -- to be an every-down running back. He's arguably the finest one in Packers' history, rushing for 8,322 yards and 52 touchdowns in eight seasons. And in his six years as the team's primary back, Green averaged 16, 19, 20, 22, 17 and 19 carries per game. He stayed healthy and produced.
Last season, the Packers were never able to get into that type of prolonged, weekly rhythm with one player.
Being an every-down running back takes a specific mind-set Green embraced.
“The key is to hit people. Don’t let them hit you first,” he said. “That’s how I was built to play. I was built to play like a linebacker. I’m going to hit you for four quarters, and if you don’t, this is what you’re going to get. You might hit me a couple times but I’m getting right back up. I’ll be a headache. That’s how I was always coached — be a headache.
“If I do my job, people are getting fired or being humiliated by the way I run the ball. Period.”
Statistically, the rushing game did improve as the season progressed.
Through the last eight games last season, the Packers averaged 122.6 rushing yards per game, good for 12th in the league. But the names kept changing. The position was a revolving door. And the lack of continuity eventually caught up with the Packers.
Benson (foot), Starks (turf toe, knee), Green (concussion) and Brandon Saine (knee) all missed time.
All along, first-year position coach Alex Van Pelt was forced to teach and re-teach the offense. The instability didn't helpAaron Rodgers, either. Ahman Green called the injuries "a black cloud" hanging over the position the last two seasons, adding that "it goes into how they're getting ready for the game and how they approach each game."
Time will tell if the Packers believe someone in the backfield can take on the mind-set Green described or if fresh blood is needed.
Multiple times, Green reaffirmined his belief in the running backs already on the roster.
Here’s his rundown on each player.
- On DuJuan Harris: “DuJuan is not a big guy. But that’s an advantage. He’s powerful. He’s explosive. He gets up the field very fast. And as a running back, that’s what you want. You don’t want any dancing around in the backfield, trying to pick your hole. Make a decision and get upfield. He’s done that."
- On Alex Green: "What I like about him is from a size standpoint, he’s a little bit bigger than DuJuan. His hands are soft. He catches the ball well out of the backfield because he went to Hawaii. He’s used to catching the ball, and DuJuan as well. Alex just has that factor of being a little bit taller and him and DuJuan both have that breakaway speed. Alex Green had the ACL so I think he’s still in his stride, coming back from that injury. That’s a mental edge. Now, it’s another year being removed from that injury. So now, he’ll be more confident running the ball.”
- On Cedric Benson: “Cedric Benson is Cedric Benson. I’ve seen him play college, I’ve seen him play pro. He’s a physical runner. Does he have breakaway speed? No. But he’s a guy that for four quarters, he can be that 20-plus carry guy and make defenses try to stop the run which will open up the pass game. ... I’m pretty sure he wants to come back and that Green Bay wants him back. I don’t see why not. He didn’t do anything wrong. He came in and did what he’s supposed to do."
- On James Starks: “If he can stay healthy, he has the capability and the potential off of his talent alone to be a good back. He just has to learn to get a little lower because he’s tall—6-1 ½, 6-2. That’s a good and a bad thing. It’s a good thing because he’s big. But that size makes him a target. He has to learn how to hit people—not be the hittee. Be the hitter, especially with his size. He can also catch the ball very good and run the ball very good. But he has to basically say, ‘I’m going to run this ball and run it hard.’ That has to be the mind-set of all the running backs that are in that backfield.”