Running Course
Green a student of West Coast offense Wednesday, September 12, 2001
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Green a student of West Coast offense

Packer Plus writer

Green Bay - Physically speaking, Ahman Green is still the same player the Seattle Seahawks drafted out of the University of Nebraska in 1998.

At 6 feet, 217 pounds, he possesses the ideal frame for a National Football League running back. The burst around the corner is apparent, as is his breakaway speed. His toughness and durability can't be questioned.

What's changed about Green is his mental approach to the game.

Stuck behind Ricky Watters on the depth chart in Seattle for his first two years, Green carried the ball just 61 times for 329 yards and saw most of his action in a special teams capacity. As a result, he wasn't forced to familiarize himself with the West Coast offense to the point where it became second nature to him.

But after a breakout performance in Green Bay in 2000, and the subsequent five-year, $17.5 million contract extension he signed, Green came to a realization: A cursory knowledge of the Packer offense just wasn't going to cut it now that he was considered their back of the future.

"It wasn't a difference in preparation, I just concentrated a little bit more," he said. "In Seattle I knew it could happen and I might have to step in but Ricky Watters was a durable guy, so there really wasn't too much opportunity where I could come in, step into a game and be prepared to pick up blitzes and run the ball. This year and last year with Dorsey (Levens) going down, I had to get ready and in this off-season I kind of knew I was going to be the starter right now and with that you've got to be ready to go like a starter. You can't be getting ready going into the first game.

"Even though I missed three games in the pre-season because I got hurt, I got mentally ready and it helped me out a great deal during the opening game against Detroit."

Green's 17-carry, 157-yard, two-touchdown performance vs. the Lions on Sunday was impressive considering he is by his estimation only 90% recovered from a strained left groin and was playing on a sloppy field.

His familiarity with the Green Bay offensive scheme was evident on both of his scoring runs. On the first, a 31-yarder on the Packers' initial possession, Green displayed good patience on a trap play before running through a tackle by safety Tommy Bennett just past the line of scrimmage.

Green's second touchdown run, an 83-yarder later in the quarter, saw him run up the back of center Mike Flanagan on a zone blocking play before he decided to shift direction. He broke two tackles as he worked his way to the left sideline and eventually into the end zone.

"I just thought his balance on that field was phenomenal," said coach and general manager Mike Sherman. "His body type, the way he runs is tailor-made for Lambeau Field."

Runs like those, in addition to his continued improvement in blitz pickup, are what Green expects to see more of as the season progresses.

"I'm just a little bit smarter in my playbook than I was last season or the season before that in Seattle," he said. "This is basically my third full year in the West Coast offense and I just got on top of it in terms of knowing blitz reads without hearing Brett even make a check or hearing the O-line make a check. I already know it. When I see the defense lined up a certain way, if they don't call it, I already know that it's coming.

"It's little things like that, I'm paying close attention to detail so when we get in the game everything goes a lot smoother and you don't really see a lull."

Long touchdown runs and big yardage totals were the norm for Green at Nebraska, where in three years he rushed for 3,880 yards and 42 touchdowns, ranking him second on the Cornhuskers' all-time list. It was after he rushed for 1,877 yards and 22 touchdowns as a junior that Green decided to leave school and enter the NFL draft.

Considering his accomplishments and the tools he possessed, Green figured he projected as a late first-round or early second-round pick. It wasn't until the third round that Green was drafted however, 76th overall, by the Seahawks.

"The bum rap was the Nebraska offense is too rudimentary, too easy, and any running back out of high school could come in there and run for 1,000 with that offensive line," said Green. "With me coming out, going into the NFL where no option is run, where (Nebraska) only passed the ball when we had to, they were like, 'OK, we don't know if he can catch the ball, we don't know if he can do blitz pickup, things like that.'

"They never really saw me cut or jive between the tackles. That was probably the main thing against me coming out."

What made it harder to swallow for Green was the fact that he had the prototype size and speed NFL teams are looking for.

"Physically I had all the attributes: Size, speed, the talent to get the job done wherever a team drafted me for the running back position. But to get drafted in the middle of the third was a little bit heartbreaking," he said. "So I just told myself from then on, 'Hey, the people that passed over me in ' 98 are going to see what they missed because I'm going to continue to work hard and better myself.' I wanted to make myself an 'everything' back: Block, run, receive the ball out of the backfield in the West Coast offense."

That chance in Seattle never materialized though, partly due to Watters' presence and also because he was tagged as a fumbler by coach and general manager Mike Holmgren.

Green's 2000 season went a long way in erasing that rap, but in the opener Sunday he did struggle holding onto the ball; he lost one fumble, muffed two pitchouts and dropped two passes.

He hadn't played in a game since Aug. 11 and the football was noticeably slippery. But a short memory and the realization that one or two mistakes won't banish him to the bench have helped Green's maturation.

"When I was out in Seattle every now and then I'd get a carry. Carry, carry, carry and then a fumble. It was carry, carry, carry and then a touchdown, then nobody would have realized I was a fumbler," said Green, who resides in nearby De Pere year-round. "As a running back or a big-time player, you want to have the ball in your hands a lot so you can get used to the game. I didn't have that opportunity until I got here."

Quarterback Brett Favre has only played with Green for a little over a season and has seen what his presence in the backfield can do to opposing defenses.

"If I could just get him to catch the easy ones, he could be very dominating," Favre quipped. "(The 83-yard) run says it all. He had some other great plays, but man, that's pretty tough to do. But as good as he is right now, he can be better - which is scary. He's young. He just has to adjust to this offense and how much we ask him to do. And if he can do that, he can be very dominating."

Green rushed for 1,175 yards and 10 touchdowns in 263 carries a year ago and also led the Packers in receiving with 73 catches for 559 yards and three scores. His 1,734 yards from scrimmage ranked fourth in the NFC and he also converted 12 of 13 third-and-1s, which was tops in the NFL for all running backs.

Impressive numbers, yes. But both he and the Packer coaching staff are expecting more of the same this season.

Green has yet to be paired with his good friend Levens in the backfield. Levens' broken hand limited him to 10 touches against the Lions, all in relief of Green.

Green has made clear his willingness to share carries with Levens, much in the same manner Levens did with Edgar Bennett during the Packers' Super Bowl run in 1996.

Green had just wrapped up his sophomore season at Nebraska when he caught the Packers' victory over the New England Patriots. He recalls the double threat Levens and Bennett presented in the backfield and wants to duplicate it, just as he wants to help bring another Super Bowl title to Green Bay.

"I watched it. The way the Super Bowl was won was with passing more than anything. You've got these two backs in the backfield and I was like, 'Wow, they got some time but Edgar and Dorsey didn't really get taken advantage of,'" said Green. "Hopefully we can get that done here. I know Dorsey's still got some go in him and he's been wanting to get going. I've said to him a couple times and I think to myself, 'I want to get him two and get me one (Super Bowl ring) before I'm done playing this game.'"

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