Green seeks long run in Green Bay
He would like to stay with Packers Wednesday, April 4, 2001
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

He would like to stay with Packers

By MICHAEL CUNNINGHAM
Packer Plus writer

Green Bay - Sylvester Croom had already witnessed Ahman Green's skills from afar. Croom was offensive coordinator for the Detroit Lions when Green's 118 yards and a touchdown helped lift the Green Bay Packers to a 26-13 win at Lambeau Field.

And now that Croom, the Packers' new running backs coach, got a close-up look at Green during the team's first minicamp, what did he think?

"He is even better than I thought he was," Croom said. "He is a very good football player."

That Croom made this determination just by watching Green practice in shorts over three days at the Don Hutson Center speaks to Green's impressive athleticism. When Green replaced Dorsey Levens in the lineup last season, he meshed those physical skills with toughness and improved reliability to go from a shaky backup to legitimate starter.

Green got his big chance because Levens struggled all season with injuries before finally shutting it down midway through the season. Now Levens is back and on the way to being healthy, meaning Green, acquired in a trade with Seattle last year, could again split time after finally getting his chance to play full-time in his third professional season.

However, Green said that if Levens' return means less playing time, that won't affect his future with the team. In fact, Green, a restricted free agent this year, said he told the Packers he would like to sign a long-term deal, even before Levens re-signed with the team.

"I want to stay here," Green said. "I like it here. I don't want to go anywhere. They know I want to be here. I've talked to them about that."

The Packers already have offered a one-year tender of $1.115 million for Green, a restricted free agent. If Green gets an offer sheet from another team, the Packers would have the opportunity to match it; if they choose not to, they would receive first- and third-round draft picks.

Green will be eligible to become an unrestricted free agent after the 2001 season, and the Packers would be hard-pressed to match the big-money offers Green very likely would attract. To avoid this, Packer negotiator Andrew Brandt met last week with Green's agent at the National Football League owners' meetings in Palm Desert, Calif., to discuss a long-term deal.

Green said he isn't worried that he may have to split time during his contract year, in part because he wants to remain a Packer. And he said he was pleased when he heard that Levens accepted a pay cut to return to the Packers.

"I was like, great," Green said. "That gives us a one-two punch like we had before early in the season. We were really rolling, with me and him in the backfield together or when he comes in and I came in back-to-back.

"That really keeps the defenses honest because they know we have two NFL-caliber backs. They know they can't blitz or do certain things all the time when we have two guys as dangerous as Dorsey and I on the football field."

The Packers' plans to feature both backs never really got on track last season because of injuries to both players. Levens started just five games due to a pair of knee injuries and an ankle injury. Green struggled early after suffering a sprained knee ligament in training camp.

After Levens' season ended when he suffered the second knee injury in a game at Miami, Green came on strong. He rushed for 769 yards, averaging 4.4 yards per carry, and caught 45 passes for 294 yards in the final eight games, six of which were victories.

Green finished the season as the team leader in rushes (263), rushing yards (1,175), touchdowns (13) and receptions (73). He is just the seventh 1,000-yard rusher in team history and the first player to lead the team in both rushing and receiving yards since Barty Smith in 1977.

Green's numbers were impressive, but the most important development may have been his improved reliability, which is Levens' strong suit. Over the latter half of the season he improved his ball security, route running, pass catching and blitz recognition - all key skills for a halfback in the Packer offense.

"I am glad the way it went," Green said. "I was able to come in here and step in and contribute in a positive way and fill some big shoes.

"A lot of people didn't expect me to come in and do the job I did," Green said. "I knew I had the talent and I knew if I was given the chance I could do it."

Packer coach Mike Sherman said he sees signs that Green's skills continue to mature.

"He took a big step this minicamp," Sherman said. "Last minicamp he was not a great route runner, a little unsure with his hands. I thought he really did an outstanding job at this minicamp.

"He was a little heavier than he was but he had been training so hard he was gaining a little weight. But he has not lost any of his speed. He is a great practice player. He is so far ahead of where he was last year."

Now, in the midst of his development, Green may have to get used to sharing time again. The Packers would like to again try the one-two punch - Levens' forceful running and superior receiving, Green's speed and big-play ability.

"We plan to use both of them," Croom said. "Invariably it usually takes care of itself. If they are both (healthy), then that is a plus for us. Then we will use them how the plan calls for at that particular time."

Green said he would have no problem sharing time, noting that it could help prolong both players' careers. He also doesn't anticipate anyproblems with working alongside Levens, who remained encouraging to Green while he was sidelined.

"We're both approaching it like professionals," Green said. "We know it's going to be competitive throughout the year. You basically have to watch that it doesn't become a personal thing, keep it within the realm of the field."

Two good halfbacks, one position: It's a good problem for the Packers to have, Croom said.

"We have two excellent backs," Croom said. "We are very fortunate. We've got a real good fullback (Williams Henderson) already. That's three guys we know we can win with."


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