Packer backs follow their leader, Green
Runner closing in on Taylor's record
Thursday, September 1, 2005
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Runner closing in on Taylor's record
By RICK BRAUN
Packer Plus writer
Green Bay - Ahman Green can be many things to many people.
Talk to his teammates on the Green Bay Packers, and you'll hear nothing but the best things about Green.
"The ultimate leader," says backfield teammate Tony Fisher.
"Class act. He's a real team player," said running backs coach Edgar Bennett.
Talk to Green himself, and you're almost always sure to get some kind of team-first statement or answers designed to deflect attention away from him that border on cliché.
One thing that encompassed the views of both Fisher and Bennett and the desire to deflect attention away from himself came with Green's decision to keep things around him quiet this past summer.
Entering the final year of his contract after five consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, Green could have demanded a new deal.
He would have had some numbers on his side.
His 2003 season of 1,883 rushing yards and a 5.3 yards-per-carry average could have been Exhibit A.
In 2004, Green still managed 1,163 yards and a 4.5 yards-per-carry average despite being hampered by an assortment of injuries that included maladies of ribs, a knee, a foot and an Achilles tendon. Green actually missed one game and most of another with badly bruised ribs.
He also managed those 2004 numbers in a season where the Packers' focus switched to a high-power passing game.
Yet, in a summer of holdouts, threatened holdouts and skipped minicamps among some of the NFL's more notable players - teammate Javon Walker included - Green reported for both minicamps and training camp and has not uttered a peep about any desire for a new contract.
"There's nothing I can control about that," Green said. "The only thing I can control is the way I play and the things I do out on that football field, and that's how I look at it. I can take care of myself and make sure I'm in shape and I'm at the weight I need to be at and I know the plays. That's about it. And I give great effort when I'm on the football field, everything else will take care of itself."
By taking that attitude Green certainly won the respect of his teammates.
"That's why he's a team leader," Fisher said. "A lot of people probably would go ahead and hold out, especially this being the last year of their contract. But he's one of those guys who just says, hey, he's going to go out there and honor his contract and do what he's got to do to make it where the team will give him another contract."
Fullback William Henderson also appreciates Green's stance.
"He could be doing all of that stuff that doesn't help," said Henderson, who has led Green into the hole for all five of his 1,000-yard seasons in Green Bay. "He understands the business. He understands that it's a performance-based business. In order to earn the money, to receive the profits, typically you've got to perform.
"And he also knew that as a group we have a lot of guys that we need to get into the locker room. Some guys are more vocal than others and we didn't need that distraction. That shows his unselfishness as a player, it shows his desire to make this team better, and basically he knows that he's confident in his ability to perform to earn that money that he wants or deserves. He's one of the more underpaid top running backs out there, and he definitely deserves it."
Green was acquired by then Packer general manager Ron Wolf on April 15, 2000, in a fleecing of the Seattle Seahawks and former Packer coach Mike Holmgren.
Wolf sent cornerback Fred Vinson and a sixth-round pick in the 2000 draft for Green and a fifth-round pick.
Green had worn out his welcome with Holmgren because of a penchant for fumbling in his first two seasons despite per-carry averages of 6.0 and 4.6 in those two years.
Green has still had bouts of fumbling with the Packers - most notably early in the season over the past three years. He's hoping to alleviate early season problems by taking more contact during training camp.
"It's just about getting in a groove, and every running back is different," Green said. "I'm a guy that once I get a certain amount of carries in the beginning of the season and the beginning of a game, the rest of the game I'm kind of in the groove and feeling comfortable about running the ball up the middle."
Green lost his second fumble of the pre-season in Friday night's 27-3 loss to the New England Patriots.
"I was just trying to fight for extra yards," he said. "The guy had me around the waist and got a good poke in on it. I can't argue against that, I can't plan against that. I was just fighting for extra yards and that happens. You just move on to the next play."
So far, the Packers have been able to put up with Green's early season bobbles because of what he brings to the team.
"He's one of those guys who's a four- or five-time Pro Bowler, and he could easily take the easy road out when it comes to practice or just working," Fisher said. "But he comes out like he's a rookie every day. He works as hard as the next man. He's our leader in our backfield, between him and Will. I just see him as the ultimate competitor."
Added Bennett: "He has a great attitude. That's one of his greatest attributes. This guy has a great attitude. He comes in here and he approaches practice with purpose. He works like he's a free agent trying to make the team, or he'll come in and work like a champion trying to get to the Super Bowl.
"And that's what it's all about. Our standards are high, and he keeps them on that level. When you have a four-time Pro Bowl player working his butt off in practice, the other guys see that and the other guys try to raise their level to his performance day in and day out. So he has a great attitude and he comes in and works his tail off."
Unfortunately for Green, he wasn't working on Monday or Tuesday. He was in court hoping to put to rest a charge of disorderly conduct/domestic abuse related to an April 28 incident at his home after an argument with his estranged wife.
Green could have accepted a plea bargain, but any guilty plea might have subjected him to discipline - including a possible suspension - from NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue.
Packer coach Mike Sherman wasn't sure if Green would be available for the pre-season finale at Tennessee.
"We're taking it day by day right now," Sherman said. "Obviously he left for personal reasons today (Monday) as you're well aware, and all I know is of today and possibly tomorrow. So we'll address that at such time as necessary."
What the Packers will also eventually have to address is Green's future. With his five consecutive big seasons, he ranks second on the Packers' all-time rushing list, trailing just Jim Taylor. He needs 1,360 yards this season to surpass Taylor's mark of 8,207.
Still, at 28 years old, Green is entering a point of his career where most running backs begin to fade.
Bennett doesn't expect Green to begin a slow fade any time soon.
"Each individual is different, and this guy understands how to take care of his body, year in and year out," Bennett said. "That's something that you have to look at from an individual standpoint. This guy stays in decent shape the entire off-season, so he came into camp in shape, his weight was down and it's showing."
Green isn't worried, even though he was slowed by injuries a year ago.
"I feel fine," he said. "Everybody's always going to have naysayers telling you what you can't do. I know what I can do, and that's still play football. If I knew I couldn't, I wouldn't be out here."
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