Versatility Defines New Running Back

Johnny White, a fifth-round pick in 2011 who played running back, wide receiver, cornerback and was a special-teams ace alongside Ryan Taylor at North Carolina, has been spending long days at Lambeau Field in hopes of contributing on Sunday vs. St. Louis.

On Saturday, the Buffalo Bills released running back Johnny White.

Eight days later, White could play for the Green Bay Packers against the St. Louis Rams.

"It was an emotional roller-coaster, going in and getting cut and not really being sure if you were going to play again this year," White said of the time between his release and being claimed on waivers by the Packers on Monday. "The NFL, nothing's really promised. I went through the mental stages of being cut, and when I got picked back up, it was a big sigh of relief to be able to play the game you love again."

White was the Bills' fifth-round pick in the 2011 draft. The 5-foot-10, 210-pounder did a little of everything at North Carolina. As a freshman, he started eight games at running back. As a sophomore, he played cornerback for most of the season before going back to running back, and was one of the ACC's top kickoff returners. He started his junior season at wide receiver before, again, going back to running back. On special teams, he returned kickoffs and contributed 16 tackles. As a senior, he led the team in rushing before sustaining a broken collarbone.

In 15 career games for the Bills, White rushed 20 times for 72 yards. Despite his hands and experience in the passing game, he caught just one pass for minus-3 yards.

"They thought he was an up-and-coming guy," running backs coach Alex Van Pelt, a former quarterback, assistant coach and offensive coordinator for the Bills, said of conversations with Buffalo's staff. "The guys I talked to thought he'd be a good replacement for Fred Jackson as he got older in his career. They thought he played well on special teams. Everybody I talked to was real positive."

Since arriving in Green Bay, White said he's been arriving a half-hour early and staying an hour late to meet with Van Pelt and special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum. With injuries to Cedric Benson and Brandon Saine leaving the Packers just three in the backfield — Alex Green, James Starks and John Kuhn — coach Mike McCarthy hasn't ruled out having White active on Sunday.

"I feel like I could (contribute) on special teams, but there's still some little things on offense that I need to get under my belt," White said. "They run some of the same plays but the verbiage is different, so when I hear certain stuff, it might trigger something else in my brain, so I need to flush all that out and get the new stuff in."

If nothing else, the Packers could use White immediately on special teams. Saine was a core member of the kicking units and linebackers Brad Jones and Erik Walden and cornerback Casey Hayward might see their special-teams duties reduced because of expanded roles on defense.

White has played in all four phases of the kicking game, including gunner and personal protector on the punt team, a blocker on punt returns, kickoff coverage and kickoff returner.

"Johnny is a bright young man," Slocum said. "He's got a good, broad experience in his background. He can do a number of things on special teams and he's got good size and good speed."

"I like him being here. He's going to be really good for our team," said tight end Ryan Taylor, who joined White as the Tar Heels' special teams aces. "He's a tremendous player. He's got good speed and he does things the right way. I'm excited for him to get up to speed and see him on the field."

Offensively, Van Pelt has seen enough to be intrigued.

"The biggest thing that stands out about him is his foot speed," Van Pelt said on Thursday. "He's got quick feet, can make a quick jump cut, kind of has a little different style than the guys we have right now, a little more quickness. He reminds me more of Cedric (Benson) with his feet and the ability to jump in and out of cuts. Right now, just watching two days of practice and one day in pads, it's tough to evaluate. I can see some foot speed there and quickness."

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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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