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Situation at running back has become dire for Packers
By LORI NICKEL
Posted: Nov. 8, 2005
Green Bay - Pro Bowl veteran Ahman Green is lost for the year.
His backup, Najeh Davenport, who was groomed to one day be a starter, is also out.
Now even Tony Fisher is out indefinitely.
In their absence, this once great Green Bay Packers running game has fallen from grace.
In 2003, behind that trio, the Packers rewrote the team's rushing records. They combined for an all-time Packers high of 2,558 rushing yards, an average of 159.9 yards per game. They even averaged five yards per carry.
A year and a half later, the Packers could be in for their worst rushing season ever.
At the midway point of the season, the Packers (1-7) have gained 575 rushing yards. They are on pace for 1,150 this season, which would be the second-worst rushing total in team history. Only the nine-game, strike-shortened 1982 team had fewer rushing yards (1,081).
Even the 1934 Packers (13-game season, 1,183 rushing yards) and 1951 Packers (12 games, 1,196 yards) were higher than the projected final rushing tally for this depleted running backs corps. And if they keep averaging 71.9 rushing yards per game, the Packers will also be lower than the 1990 Packers, who averaged just 85.56 rushing yards per game, the all-time low.
Maybe Packers coach Mike Sherman got out his rosary beads and prayed for help, because the best tailback he has for the team's game Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons - and coordinator Ed Donatell's defense - is a 22-year-old only son of a minister.
On Monday, Sherman said he was leaning toward starting rookie and recently acquired undrafted free agent Samkon Gado on Sunday.
"I really don't feel like I deserve to be in this position," said Gado. "I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God chose me to be here. I don't know how long he has me here but I am going to enjoy the ride as long as I am here."
The series of events that brought Gado to Green Bay began in 1990 when Gado's father, Jeremiah, left Nigeria and came to South Carolina to study at the bible college Columbia International University.
His family followed him to the United States a year later, including Sam, then a 9-year-old soccer player.
"I had no idea what football was, I just knew the ball was shaped funny, and they used their hands and not their feet to handle the ball," said Gado. "I played soccer even the first three or four years I was in the United States, and that's all I cared about. That's my dad's passion."
But by the seventh grade, Gado began playing football. He was a standout at Ben Lippen High School in Columbia. His religious faith ultimately led Gado to Liberty University, the school founded by Jerry Falwell.
There, Gado found himself trailing two other running backs in his same class, and never broke into the starting lineup more than twice. But he did play. As a senior last year, Gado averaged 6.5 yards per carry with 901 rushing yards on 138 carries. He scored 11 times.
He did not consider transferring to another college program where he would be the featured back. His family sacrificed a lot financially just to live in the U.S., with his father Jeremiah taking jobs like cleaning horse stables and his mother, Grace, cleaning houses, which she does to this day. Both have college educations.
"My parents didn't have the money (to transfer)," said Gado. "Also, I had a very good relationship with my head coach (Ken Karcher), so I felt there were so many positives to the school, I really felt I would be doing myself a disservice by transferring just for football."
Gado signed with Kansas City in May as a free agent. He was cut by the end of the pre-season and re-signed to the Chiefs' practice squad. He stayed there for a month before he was released.
After timing him at a blazing 4.43 seconds in the 40-yard dash, the Packers signed him to their practice squad on Oct. 17. He was elevated to the 53-man active roster just before the Cincinnati game. There, he had one carry. Fisher did most of the work.
But Fisher broke a rib, discovered just days before the Pittsburgh game, which led to ReShard Lee's start against the Steelers. When Lee fumbled early, Gado subbed for him immediately.
Gado had 62 yards on 26 carries, both team highs for a running back this season. His 2.4 average yards per carry wasn't that good, but then again, the fact that the Packers running game didn't completely implode was impressive. Even the great Barry Sanders once had a minus-1 yard rushing game. Given the fact that Lee and Gado are newer to the system than new receivers Taco Wallace and Andrae Thurman, the Packers had every reason to throw the ball 50 times to Donald Driver and Bubba Franks against the Steelers. But they stuck with the run for balance.
"I felt good about our run game," said Sherman.
When Gado scored his first touchdown and dropped to his knees to thank God, it was only the Packers' fourth rushing touchdown this season. In 2003, they had 18. Still, the Packers aren't using injuries or new faces as an explanation for their low production.
Packers running backs coach Edgar Bennett said he sincerely believed Gado had NFL potential. Rather than be dismayed by the injuries or production, he was happy to see Gado show up on a Tuesday, the player's only off day, for film work.
"In a way it's actually been OK because it's a challenge, and because you actually get to teach," Bennett said.
Gado, who picked the number 35 in honor of Nigerian-born ex-Kansas City Chiefs running back Christian Okoye, was thrilled Sunday night when the call came from Nigeria. It was his father, in Africa for mission work and to visit family. Calling from an underdeveloped area, he had no Internet access, and no idea what Gado did.
"I didn't even let him talk, I was like, 'Dad! Have you heard? Have you heard?' " recalled Gado. "I said, 'Dad, I scored a touchdown!' He said, 'You scored a touchdown?'
"He's been the biggest Christian influence in my life and we talked about how God worked this situation for us to be here. He just said, 'Sam, I love you.'
"The mentality in different cultures, that's not something easy to say from father to son. It was really emotional between the two of us."