Gado's a keeper

Rookie running back worth a contract extension for 2006

Is Samkon Gado nothing more than another Rondell Mealey, Basil Mitchell, DeMond Parker or LeShon Johnson? A flash in the pan who is in Green Bay one or two seasons and then disappears? Or can Gado make the challenging climb from a lowly street free agent to starter or top backup running back in the NFL?

In the short time he has been with the Packers, Gado has shown that he has all the ability to at least be a top backup for the Packers next season. If the Nigerian flash can run a little more comfortably with the ball and not fumble in the remaining four games of this season, who knows? Gado may push for a starting job in training camp.

In the last five games, plus one carry against Cincinnati in late October, Gado already has amassed a team-leading 366 yards on 108 carries for a modest 3.4-yard per carry average. He leads the team with five touchdowns, matching the rookie record set by John Brockington in 1971.

Do these numbers make him a legitimate NFL back? No, and Packers coach Mike Sherman also is passing on that one at this time. However, Gado has done enough to get Sherman's attention and earn a another start this Sunday night against the Detroit Lions at Lambeau Field. In the meantime, Packers fans are increasingly boarding the Gado bandwagon.

"To be a running back in the National Football League is week after week after week," Sherman said. "I will say this: His durability has proven to be a plus for him. He doesn't get beat up, necessarily. He doesn't (miss) practices. Physically, he seems to be able to take the pounding. We've given him a fair share of carries, so durability isn't part of the issue. So far, in the short time that he's played, he's been durable. Obviously being able to hang onto the football is going to be a major criteria. Development on his reads. He has good hands. He's smart. He knows (pass) protection pretty well. He has a promising future if he continues to develop, but to say he's an NFL bonafide guy right now, it's too soon for me to say that."

Gado has shown an instinctive ability to find holes that are not always right in front of him. That's something that coaches cannot teach a running back, and that's usually what separates the good backs from the average to below-average backs. Gado, especially against the Chicago Bears and at times in games before that, made some cutbacks and used his quickness to blast through holes. There were other times where he totally missed reads and left yards on the field, like against Atlanta in his debut as a starter when he finished with 103 yards on 25 carries. With each carry, he is learning and improving.

"It happens so fast, but me and the O-line have to learn to trust (each other)," Gado said. "The competition is just so much … everything needs to be covered. I can't overlook any detail, whether it's the way I'm holding the ball, or picking up a read, stuff like that."

Gado is blessed with a solid 5-foot-11, 210-pound frame and runs low to the ground. He has shown an excellent burst and has made some big gains when there wasn't the slightest of creases. He runs a lot like Ahman Green. When the line has created openings, Gado has been hitting them with more frequency. He's exciting to watch and has the ability, like Green, to bust loose for a big gain or touchdown on any given carry.

Also like Green, the biggest knock on Gado has been his fumbling. He fumbled four times over three games. If he continues to put the ball on the ground, none of the above attributes will matter. He'll be set free and be considered no more than a flash in the pan, like Mitchell and Parker in the late 1990s, Mealey (2001-02) and Johnson (1994-95). Since Gado wasn't drafted, he doesn't get the luxury of fumbling the ball and getting a free pass. Green, who was drafted in the third round by Seattle in 1998, lost all confidence from Mike Holmgren because of his inability to hold onto the ball and was traded to the Packers. Fortunately, Green resurrected his career in Green Bay but he nearly was cast onto the scrap heap of frequent-fumbling running backs.

"There's been a lot of running backs that have played for two or three weeks and then all of a sudden you don't hear from them," offensive coordinator Tom Rossley said. "You have to do it week in and week out."

Thus far, Gado has shown that he can be effective on a week-to-week basis.

The Gado bandwagon is increasing its capacity with each game. If the young back can continue to pile up yards in the final quarter of the season, it will be at capacity. If that happens, the Packers would be wise to re-sign the back this off-season ahead of the oft-injured Najeh Davenport, who becomes an unrestricted free agent after this season.

The humble Gado has gained a lot of confidence over the past month and a half. He knows what he must do to stick with the Packers beyond this season. Look for him to come through and contribute even more for Green Bay in 2006.

Todd Korth is managing editor of and Packer Report. E-mail him at

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