On Thursday at Cincinnati, the Green Bay Packers played it safe by using John Kuhn as their third-down back.
Despite his occasional mental lapses, James Starks entered training camp as the Packers' preferred choice in the third-down role, but he missed Thursday's game and is expected to miss next week's preseason finale against Kansas City with turf toe. Brandon Saine was expected to push for the role but he's missed all three preseason games with an injured hamstring.
Rodgers and the No. 1 offense faced seven third-down plays during their one half of action against the Bengals. Kuhn was the lone running back for each of them, and he performed flawlessly in pass protection. Of course, Kuhn's strong suits in pass protection have to be weighed against the lack of move-the-chains ability when used as an outlet receiver. Nonetheless, the No. 1 priority is protecting Rodgers.
"I feel like we have capable guys," running backs coach Alex Van Pelt said on Tuesday. "We'll get James back, hopefully Brandon back — those guys can do those things, too. (With) Alex, Cedric (Benson) and John, we've got five guys that understand protection and can protect."
Last season, according to numbers from ProFootballFocus.com, Starks allowed one sack and one hurry for two total pressures in 71 pass-protection snaps. Kuhn allowed no sacks and four hurries for four total pressures in 72 pass-protection snaps. Saine was perfect in just seven opportunities while Green was not used during his very limited action.
"He's good," Van Pelt said of Green. "He's been on the right guys; that's half the battle. That was just a technique error and he just got beat in a one-on-one matchup there. It was technique — he dropped his head a little bit — but understood it right away and came back and was mad at himself for doing it and protected well the rest of the way."
Against the Bengals, Kuhn carried three times for 19 yards in a strong performance. Playing behind the first offensive line, Benson had an excellent debut with 38 carries on six attempts while Green managed 10 yards on five attempts.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.