On paper, Green Bay's set of running backs and fullbacks appear to be set. However, a few veterans attempting a return from major injuries last year, along with a training camp surprise or two, will determine the face of the backfield for the Packers.
Pro Bowl running back Ahman Green is rehabbing from a ruptured quadriceps injury sustained last October. Running back Najeh Davenport is trying to bounce back from a broken ankle. Both of the backs have yet to practice with the team this off-season and likely will be held out of practices early on in training camp, which begins July 28.
Samkon Gado, last year's rookie sensation, has the inside track on the starting job at halfback, at least early in the season. Fullback Vonta Leach started five games last year and split time with veteran William Henderson, who is returning for his 12th NFL season, all with Green Bay.
Though it appears that Gado and Leach will start in the backfield early on, and be backed up by Green, Davenport and Henderson, nothing is set in stone. It is very possible that Noah Herron, who was obtained by Green Bay for the final five games last season because of injuries to other running backs, will make the final roster. Herron has performed well in the new offense, according to head coach Mike McCarthy, this off-season. If the Packers keep Herron, a second-year pro, they may opt to release Henderson or Leach. Leach is a better blocker than Henderson, though, Henderson catches the ball well out of the backfield and runs better than Leach. If the Packers cut Leach and Henderson, look for rookie Ben Brown to make a strong push for a roster spot along with Herron.
As Green and Davenport stand along the sideline and watch, Gado and Herron have received the bulk of the reps in Organized Team Activities practices this month.
Gado led the team with 582 yards rushing and six touchdowns in the final eight games. He was signed as a street free agent last October to the practice squad, then moved up to the active roster, but he acknowledges that the starting job is Green's once he's healthy.
"I'm taking advantage of the practice time, but you're talking about one of the best in the game," Gado said. "When Ahman comes back, he's the guy."
Green, who was named to the Pro Bowl from 2001-04, has vowed to be ready by the regular season opener Sept. 10, but it remains to be seen how the ninth-year pro will be able to take the pounding that a running back receives on a tender right quadriceps. Davenport probably will be able to practice sooner than Green in training camp. Davenport said this week that he began running on his surgically repaired right ankle in February. Davenport, entering his fifth season with the Packers, made his second career start for Green against New Orleans last Oct. 9, but only last two quarters when he got his right leg caught underneath him while getting tackled.
Chaz Williams also is attempting to make the roster after sustaining a broken right ankle last Aug. 4 in a scrimmage against the Buffalo Bills. Williams returned to practice with the team last week after sitting out of the team's first two mini-camps in May.