Posted July 30, 2007Cause for concern at running back? Injury-riddled Morency, rookie lead RBs
By Rob Demovsky mailto:email@example.com
To everyone who believes the Green Bay Packers' running game will suffer without longtime starter Ahman Green, Brandon Miree offers a history lesson.
Miree, the Packers' fullback, was a rookie with the Denver Broncos in 2004, the year they were charged with replacing Clinton Portis and his 1,591 yards rushing.
"Everyone was wondering how Denver's running game was going to react to it," Miree recalled on Sunday. "We ended up having a 1,000-yard rusher in Reuben Droughns, and three different running backs (Droughns, Quentin Griffin and Tatum Bell) each had 100-yard games."
The comparison is at least worthy of consideration given that the Packers last season implemented the zone-blocking running scheme that was created in Denver by former offensive line coach Alex Gibbs and remains a trademark of the Broncos' offense.
However, there are legitimate reasons to wonder if the same thing can happen in Green Bay after the Packers refused to get into a bidding war for Green, who signed a four-year, $23 million contract with the Houston Texans.
The first — and perhaps most important — concern has become an issue two days into training camp. Third-year veteran Vernand Morency has failed to quell doubts about his durability, something that has been a knock against him going back to his college days at Oklahoma State.
Morency dropped out of Saturday's practice and didn't suit up on Sunday because of a knee problem. The Packers don't believe it's a serious injury, but it again raised concerns about his ability to be an every-down back for an entire 16-game season.
"I don't know (if he can); we'll see," Packers General Manager Ted Thompson said. "If he hangs onto that starting job, we'll see."
Morency's relatively small build — he's listed at 5-foot-10, 212 pounds — combined with a short history of nagging injuries provide enough cause for concern. In college, he missed five games in 2002 due to an ankle injury and one start in 2004 (his only year as a full-time starter) because of a knee injury.
Last season, he sat out consecutive games due to a back injury that occurred late in a game against Arizona on Oct. 29, when he had his best showing (101 yards on 11 carries) since coming to the Packers in an early season trade with Houston for Samkon Gado.
"I go back to what he's done in the offseason, (and) I'm surprised that he's had an injury this early," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "I'm not concerned. We've talked over and over again, if it takes one guy to do the job, we'll do it with one guy. If it takes a committee of backs to do it, then we'll do it by committee."
The rest of the committee is made up of a rookie second-round draft pick with plenty of promise, a career backup and a former practice-squad player. The rookie, Brandon Jackson of Nebraska, took the majority of the reps with Morency out but still has a ways to go. Though he was more effective than in Saturday's practice, Jackson still ran tentatively at times.
Perhaps his best run so far in camp came Sunday morning (in a non-pads practice) on a stretch play — one of the mainstays in the zone scheme — to the right in which he waited patiently for a hole to open and then turned the corner for an 8-yard gain.
"I'm pretty comfortable with that," Jackson said of that play. "It's like a lot of plays we did at Nebraska. You've got linemen running at you, and you're basically running downhill sideways. You have to stay disciplined and read it."
Though Jackson admitted he was tired following the morning practice, he believes he can handle a starter's workload even though during his three college seasons he started only 11 games and in only one season had more than 85 carries.
"I know Vernand will be back, but if worse comes to worse, I feel very comfortable taking a lot of reps," said Jackson, who estimated that he got about 80 percent of the snaps during practice last season at Nebraska.
Behind Morency and Jackson is P.J. Pope, who was signed off Chicago's practice squad last season and appeared in one game, and third-year pro Noah Herron, who primarily has been a third-down back. Early in camp, Pope has worked ahead of Herron at times and could be a contributor as a short-yardage back.
"In this system, when you have turnover (at running back), you just plug people into the system and keep going," Miree said. "I really have great confidence in all of those guys."