Leach rises into starting lineup

Fullback, once cast off by Packers, surpasses Henderson

Haven't we been through this before? William Henderson is listed as the starting fullback for the Green Bay Packers, but Vonta Leach is clearly playing more. Last year, Robert Ferguson was on the depth chart as one of the team's starting receivers, though, Javon Walker clearly emerged as Brett Favre's top target.

Whatever the case, Leach has been on the field with the offense at the start of Green Bay's previous two games. And, in fact, Leach had eight more plays (20) than Henderson (12) in Green Bay's game against Tampa Bay last Sunday.

Packers coach Mike Sherman insists that Henderson, who is in his 11th season with the team, is his starting fullback. In other words, the coach is showing respect to his veteran fullback. Sherman is in the process of changing the guard at fullback, but he is still going to honor Henderson for the time well-served at the position the previous 10 seasons. Nothing wrong with that.

Sherman made an admirable attempt to sweep under the rug the change at fullback during his mid-week press conference. Sherman said the switch in the last two games was because of the package employed for the first play of each game by the Packers. Nice try.

"Leach is not our starting fullback. William Henderson is," Sherman asserted. "You can interpret it anyway you want. You ask who's my starting fullback. I'm telling you it's William Henderson. You can write the story anyway you want, but Leach is not our starting fullback, William Henderson is."

Sure, but if Leach is out on the field with the starters and participates in more plays than the only other fullback on the team, what does that make him?

Sherman will probably continue to say that Henderson is the starter at fullback the rest of the season, but even Henderson, who is in the final year of his contract, realizes that Leach has passed him up on the depth chart.

"It's just different," Henderson told the Green Bay Press-Gazette. "That's all it is, just different. I don't know if (12 snaps against Tampa Bay) is enough, but that's what they gave me."

The time to make the change at fullback has arrived. It was inevitable at some point. Leach has fully recovered from a sprained knee that he sustained in training camp and has gone from the NFL outhouse to the penthouse. He was released during the team's final cutdown on Sept. 3. When no other team claimed him off waivers, the Packers signed him, but to their practice squad. A day later, he was promoted to the 53-man roster as the team released Henderson's supposed heir apparent, Nick Luchey.

"I knew I would be on the 53-man roster, but I didn't know how long it would take," Leach said. "I think the coaches got confidence in me and my teammates got confidence in me. I've got confidence in myself."

Leach couldn't ask for a better situation. He is learning behind Henderson, who was named to his first Pro Bowl last season, and probably should have been named to more earlier in his career. Leach is getting a lot of playing time and, well, starting.

"I ain't no rookie," Leach said. "I know the system."

He is getting used to it much quicker than many thought he would.

Todd Korth

Todd Korth is managing editor of PackerReport.com and Packer Report. E-mail him at packrepted@aol.com.

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