Class of 2011 Could Spark Packers' Backfield

Alex Green, a third-round pick last season, is attacking his rehab with a vengeance. When Green was injured last season, Brandon Saine showed plenty of promise. These big, sure-handed running backs could be major factors in the backfield.

If you're looking for a reason why the Green Bay Packers apparently have little interest in retaining running back Ryan Grant, it might be because of Alex Green's rapid recovery and Brandon Saine's performance in Green's absence.

Green, a third-round draft pick in 2011 out of Hawaii, tore his ACL while playing special teams at Minnesota on Oct. 23. Green "looks great" in his rehab, Mike McCarthy said on Sunday, and the coach is "hopeful" Green will be ready by the start of training camp.

Green carried three times for 11 yards and caught one pass for 6 yards while playing in four games. During the preseason, he averaged a meager 1.4 yards per on his 16 rushing attempts, though that was mostly running behind the second- and third-string offensive line.

All along, Green has been ahead of schedule on his rehab, which is probably why the Packers not only haven't made a move with Grant but didn't add a running back during the draft. Green has been running four days a week, and in the latest step on his comeback trail, he's been doing some cutting.

Green (6-0, 225), who rushed for 1,199 yards and 18 touchdowns while catching 27 passes as a senior, fits the Packers' mold as a big running back who can catch.

"Really high hopes," Jerry Fontenot, who coached the running backs last season before being shifted to tight ends, told Packer Report at the end of last season. "Alex is a kid that's got a lot of ability. He's very gifted in space. He's got good hands, he can run the ball, he's physical, he's big. We were excited to see how he would contribute. He was going to start getting a few carries and start getting a little bit of action in pretty much whatever situation we needed, because he's the kind of guy that can play in any kind of situation."

While Green was drafted in the third round, Saine went undrafted out of Ohio State, even though Saine (5-11, 220) tested better than Green at the Scouting Combine (4.44 in the 40 vs. Green's 4.52). Saine, who opened the season on the practice squad, impressed the coaches with his intelligence upon being thrust into action with injuries to James Starks and Green. Saine carried 18 times for 69 yards (3.8 average) and added 10 catches for 69 more yards. While he never was a breakout performer at Ohio State with his 17 career starts, he's the same kind of back as Green: big, powerful and sure-handed.

"Brandon did a very nice job for us. He played solid," Fontenot said. "He's a kid that's got good hands, can catch the ball out of the backfield. He's got good speed when he breaks loose (and) he can make guys miss in the open field. He's a very smart kid. The scheme and just understanding what's going on and what's expected of him within our offense, I think he picked it up very quickly. Whenever his number was called, he was ready."

If the Packers are going to upgrade their running game, much of the responsibility will fall on Green and Saine.

Starks hasn't been healthy since 2008, having missed all of his senior season at Buffalo with a shoulder injury, much of 2010 with a hamstring injury and parts of 2011 with knee and ankle injuries. After three consecutive injury-marred seasons, how many eggs to the Packers dare to put in Starks' basket?

While nothing will be determined until training camp, undrafted rookies Marc Tyler of USC and Duane Bennett of Minnesota don't offer nearly the physical upside that Saine did last year. Bennett, a three-year starter who ranks 12th in school history with 2,126 rushing yards, ran 4.63 at his pro day. Tyler, who brings some off-the-field baggage, rushed for 1,751 yards in his career and ran a 4.76 at the Scouting Combine.

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at

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