Unit by unit: Running backs

PackerReport.com's series on breaking down every area of the Green Bay Packers continues with the running backs. Injuries to key players last year combined with the fact that three veterans are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents has left this position in limbo.

Starters - RB Ahman Green, FB William Henderson Backups - RB Samkon Gado, RB Tony Fisher, RB Najeh Davenport, RB Noah Herron, FB Vonta Leach

The Green Bay Packers were never hit as hard with injuries at any one position than running back in 2005. The Packers were forced to start five different players and, as a result, struggled with the running game.

The numbers tell the story:

Green Bay's 84.5 rushing yards per game was the lowest total in team history and ranked 30th in the league. That was the Packers' worst ranking since the 1977 team finished 27th in a 28-team league. The Packers ranked 10th in 2004 and third in 2003 in rushing. In fact, just two seasons ago, Green Bay set a team rushing record with 2,558 rushing yards - an average of 159.9 per game.

Green Bay ranked 31st in rushing yards per attempt at 3.39. Only Arizona (3.16) was worse. It was another colossal drop for the Packers, who averaged 4.33 yards per carry in 2004 and 5.05 per attempt in '03.

Najeh Davenport sustained a broken ankle on Oct. 9, then Ahman Green was lost for the season with a ruptured quadriceps Oct. 23. Third-string back Tony Fisher got his first start Oct. 30, but promptly broke a rib and missed a few games.

Practice-squad pickup Samkon Gado surprisingly settled in as the fifth starting featured back in the second half of the season and put the once-productive Green to shame with three 100-yard games in a space of five weeks, highlighted by his team-rookie-record 171 yards in the Dec. 11 overtime win over Detroit. The following week, however, Gado's late-season splash prematurely ended because of a torn knee ligament, but he made a long-lasting impression on new Packers offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski, who was Atlanta's offensive line coach last year. Gado rushed for 101 yards and three touchdowns in his first career start Nov. 13 in Green Bay's 33-25 win over the Falcons in the Georgia Dome.

"Pretty damn good," said Jagodzinski when asked what he thought of Gado. "He didn't even start at Liberty. He comes in here and starts for the Packers. He obviously has got some ability. He hurt his knee. We've got to get our guys back. We've got to get our guys healthy and get them back into the mix." Green and Davenport will be unrestricted free agents, and Green has expressed a desire to re-sign with the team, which will probably bring him back with an incentive-laden, one-year contract. The showdown between Green and Gado for the starting spot shapes up to be the most intense battle of the preseason.

Fisher also will be an unrestricted free agent, but his only value to the offense is on third down as both a blitz protector and a safety valve catching the ball out of the backfield.

Noah Herron was an unpolished stopgap to finish the season after Gado went down.

Fullback William Henderson will be 35 on Feb. 19 and is headed toward free agency. The veteran is still effective as a lead blocker, but he had his playing time diminished in favor of the punishing Vonta Leach, whom the Packers would like to see in the starting lineup. But Henderson remains sure-handed as a check-down receiver and figures to be back for year No. 12 with the team. Leach has had trouble catching short passes out of the backfield and has a difficult time making the first tackler miss, unlike Henderson.

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