Ball is in Gado's hands

Rookie running back at a make-or-break point with Packers

Four weeks ago, how many people outside Samkon Gado's family ever heard of Samkon Gado? Green Bay Packers players, those close to the situation … and that's about it. Then in Week 9, when the Packers were so decimated by injuries in the backfield, Gado got his chance, just after ReShard Lee fumbled early against the Steelers. The undrafted rookie from Liberty hauled the football 26 times for 62 yards with one TD, a good performance, but nothing to toot a horn.

Nonetheless, the next week at Atlanta, Gado started his first NFL game and became a household name for Packers fans after he gained 103 yards and scored three touchdowns in a win at the Georgia Dome. After that performance stories were written about if Gado could be the Packers' featured back of the future. Radio talk shows marveled about this guy, and TV had feature stories on him.

Then, one week later, with the next Ahman Green in the backfield, Gado all reminded us he's a rookie and went undrafted for a reason. He fumbled, moving his total to three fumbles in two starts, and was replaced by Tony Fisher in the backfield after gaining seven yards on 10 carries in a loss to Minnesota.

The truth about Gado is this: He isn't nearly as good as many said he was after the Falcons game, but he's not as bad as he was against the Vikings. Before anybody can accurately predict Gado's future, more has to be seen from him.

How does he deal with adversity? We'll see Sunday at Philadelphia. How does he do when his legs are as tired as the opponent's? That's one advantage Gado has had this year, coming in midway through the season. While other players have gone through a training camp and about eight games, Gado is fresh. There will be no rookie wall to hit. How much can Gado improve with a full off-season, or has he peaked already? Likely, he will improve.

Packers coach Mike Sherman was asked about Gado's performance against the Vikings, and said, "Certainly, the fumble didn't help much. I would have been more willing to get him back in there, but we were in a different type of game. We were not having any success with anybody running the football. Fisher was the backup choice in regard to (pass) protection and route running and things of that nature.

"It's not a knock against Gado. There just weren't a whole lot of opportunities in there for rushing. But, certainly, he has to hold on to the football."

Holding onto the football is the most important thing to do for a running back of Gado's status. Having proven nothing in the NFL, he'll win a coach over more with secure ball handling and solid running, than running wild, making big plays, but also coughing up the ball.

Unless he is Green, who has been a fumbler, but always made up for it with big plays week in and week out, he has to hold on to the ball like it's his first-born child.

Gado's story to this point just shows how an NFL season can go for a player. Here's an unknown, who's only playing in the NFL because of injuries. Then, he gets his big chance to start, sparkles and all of a sudden a questionable running game is now a strength for years to come.

It was a dream story everybody was loving.

Then comes a fumble and seven yards in a loss.

Now, the running game is a question mark, and Gado's future is as certain as where the New Orleans Saints will call home in two years.

A lot of people jumped on Gado's bandwagon a couple weeks back, and for good reason. In a season of too many losses, any glimmer of hope is something to think about. How will Gado fair the rest of the season? Will he contend for a starting position in 2006? Will he make the roster in 2006?

Nobody knows for sure, but his final six games will go a long way in determining his fate. Gado has ability. He's not the next LaDainian Tomlinson, but maybe he can be a reliable player.

"I really want to fix this, go back to work and right the wrongs," Gado said. "I'm learning, and there's a lot to learn, but I think eventually I'll get it."

Sometimes success can come too quickly for a player and he thinks he's made it. This happens a lot in sports, where a player shines for one game and then disappears. It's up to Gado to prove he won't be that player. It's up to Gado to make sure we see him more of him in the future.

Doug Ritchay

Editor's note: Doug Ritchay is a longtime sportswriter and former Packers beat writer for the Green Bay News-Chronicle. E-mail at

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