More "Running Back Who?" than "Running Back U," Hawaii football is all about spread offenses, multiple alignments and gaudy passing numbers. But with the second-to-last pick of the third round (No. 96 overall) of the NFL Draft, the Green Bay Packers added a powerful package to their championship fold in the form of 6-foot, 225-pound running back Alex Green. Their first-ever draft pick from the University of Hawaii, Green could be the sleeper pick of the 2011 running back class and see reps next season as a third-down back.
"He's a big back," Packers GM Ted Thompson said. "He runs, he catches. I think he's got very good feet, very good instincts. Plays in a spread offense. We saw him at the East-West (Shrine) game and got really good exposure there. He was clearly the class of the group at the East-West practices, and actually was able to see him at his pro day at Home Depot out in California. He's pretty impressive."
Green's season in Hawaii was something of an oddity. His team ranked 106th in the nation in rushing but was No. 1 in passing. Still, Hawaii's preference to air it out didn't stop Green from ripping it up. He was the first Hawaii running back to surpass 1,000 rushing yards since former coach June Jones implemented the Warriors' run-and-shoot offense in 1999. You have to go back even farther — to 1992 — to find the last Warrior back to do that. Even more meaningful, Green's 1,199 yards and 18 touchdowns came with an 8.2 yards-per-carry average that was tops in the country for a running back.
While he's got the brute force to bowl defenders over and will unleash the occasional stiff-arm, Green's game is full of quick bursts through the hole — he runs a 4.45 40 — and stutter-steps in the open field that set him up for long gainers. He also catches the ball out of the backfield as smooth and cleanly as any back in the draft, with 27 grabs for 363 yards and a score last season. When asked during his conference call with Green Bay media what he did best, that was the first thing out of Green's mouth.
"Catching the ball out of the backfield," Green said, without hesitation. "And I can get downfield quickly, hit the hole hard."
Prior to two seasons in Hawaii's spread offense, Green played in a more traditional backfield while at Butte Community College in Oroville, Calif. It's the same junior college that Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers played at prior to transferring to Cal, and Green was teammates with Rodgers' younger brother, Jordan. He considered tiny Liberty College — where former Packer back Samkon Gado hailed from — when no Division I programs offered him a scholarship. But Butte teammate and Hawaii commit Lametrius Davis talked to the Warriors' coaches about Green, who rushed for 1,037 yards and 14 touchdowns as a sophomore in helping Butte to a 12-0 record and 2008 national championship. Next thing he knew, Green was saying aloha.
"They started looking at my tape, got me on a visit, and they offered me on a Sunday, I committed on a Sunday," Green said. "The rest was history from there. It was a blessing."
The eighth running back to come off the board, Green enters a crowded Packers backfield that includes Super Bowl XLV starter James Starks, third-down back Brandon Jackson and former starter Ryan Grant, who missed all of last season with a broken ankle and ligament damage. There's also fan-favorite John Kuhn, and fullbacks Korey Hall and Quinn Johnson. Green looks like a third-down and short-yardage back. But wherever he's lined up, one thing he'll need to avoid is putting the ball on the ground.
In 271 carries at Hawaii, he fumbled eight times, or about once every 34 carries. He also fumbled twice during the East-West Shrine Game, forcing teams to hit pause on the positive impression he had made in a week of practices leading to the game. That fumbling is something another Packers back named Green was known for doing, and something newly anointed running backs coach Jerry Fontenot plans to help this Green avoid.
"Just as with any young kid coming out of college, one of the primary things we always stress is ball-security," Fontenot said. "It's something we'll work on every single day and everybody's subject to it and he will not be any different. It's going to be a matter of getting out there and getting tough and getting pass blocking responsibilities thrown on you. All that stuff is coachable. The things you can't coach are the things like instincts, vision."
When those qualities come on a 225-pound frame covering ground like a freight train, that's a pretty good way to end the second day of your draft. And figuring out how Green fits into their backfield plans will be a very good problem to have.
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W. Keith Roerdink has covered the Packers since 1992. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.