Running out of bodies at running back

With the holiday shopping season approaching, the Green Bay Packers' training staff will have ample opportunity to make a few extra bucks this week.

Green Bay's vaunted running game is down to one healthy body. That's fullback William Henderson, who has exactly zero carries since the 2002 season.

The injury list at the position is painful, to say the least. Keeping the training staff busy in the days leading up to Monday night's home game against St. Louis will be:

— Starting tailback Ahman Green (ribs)

— Backup tailback Najeh Davenport (hamstring)

— Third-string tailback Tony Fisher (neck stinger)

— Fourth-string tailback Walter Williams (ankle)

— Backup fullback Nick Luchey (shoulder)

Green, Fisher, Williams and Luchey suffered their injuries in Sunday night's last-second victory at Houston. Davenport was injured the week before, which precipitated the practice-squad call-up of Williams.

The availability of Pro Bowler Green, who is among the league leaders with 879 rushing yards and a 4.8-yards-per-carry average, is Green Bay's primary concern.

Green underwent a CT scan on his ribs Monday. The test reportedly revealed injured cartilage but no broken bones. Green suffered the injury on a 7-yard run to open the game. He left briefly and tried to perform but could not.

"If he practices, it'll be later in the week," said Packers coach Mike Sherman. "He's sore now. So, it'll be, as indicated to me from the trainers last night and today, a day-to-day type of injury."

Luchey's injury appears to be the most serious. Further tests after the game revealed he separated, not sprained, his shoulder.

"There's a fair amount of concern," said Sherman while discussing Luchey. "It's a significant injury, a shoulder separation. Obviously it can affect the rotator cuff. We'll know more this afternoon, but I have a significant amount of concern regarding that."

If Luchey cannot play, the Packers may have to bring Vonta Leach off the practice squad so Henderson can be given a breather.

When Green went down, Williams stepped in as the primary ballcarrier and faired well, toting the ball seven times for 42 yards. He left in the second quarter, however, with a high ankle sprain, which are notoriously fickle and more often than not keep a player out of the lineup for weeks, not days.

If Green can't take the pain and Williams' ankle won't heal, the Packers will cross their fingers that Davenport is healthy enough to carry the load. Depending on Davenport to be the feature back is a dicey proposition given the fact he hasn't played since Oct. 24, has only 32 carries on the season, and has had an injury-plagued career.

If neither Green, Williams nor Davenport can play, then the Packers will rely on Fisher. Fisher, however, excels as a receiver and change-of-pace runner more than as an every-down back. Against Houston on Sunday, Fisher gained only 14 yards on seven rushes, with a long of just 4 yards. For the season, he's averaging just 3.1 yards per rush, well below the team average of 4.5.

He, too, was injured Sunday night, suffering a stinger. He probably would have been pulled from the game if not for the Packers' injury predicament. His availability for the Monday night game won't be determined until the middle of the week, at the earliest.

The litany of injuries in the backfield could force the Packers to put the game on Brett Favre's shoulders again. Favre led the Packers to victory in the fourth quarter on Sunday night, but putting the ball in the air 50 times is not the ideal situation. Especially considering Favre's six interceptions against the Rams in a 2002 playoff game and because St. Louis' run defense ranks 29th and is begging to be exploited.

With winter approaching and the game being played under the lights, the weather could dictate a ground-oriented attack.

"This is the time we need to have our ground game be strong," offensive coordinator Tom Rossley said. "Last year at this time we really started running the ball well. I still think we can get that done. It's just who's going to be doing the running?"

That's the question Sherman wants answered.

"Obviously it's a concern," said Sherman. "Hopefully some of it will be cleared up in the next day or two, but it's something from a personnel standpoint that we have to keep an eye on."


Packer Report Top Stories