Herron, signed off the Pittsburgh's practice squad late last November, sat at his home and could only watch as the Steelers upended the Seattle Seahawks for the Super Bowl XL title in February. Herron was partially compensated by the Steelers for the time he spent early last season with the team, but couldn't help but play the ‘what if' game while watching the road-warrior Pittsburgh team roll through the playoffs.
"I was a little bit salty about the whole thing," admitted Herron. "But I was happy they won.
"There I was on the practice squad of a Super Bowl team. In the immediate, it seemed better for me to stay there. They were going to make the playoffs and they did what they did, but as a career move for me, I get five games in, and I play, and I actually played more than I thought I would. Now I got tape out there and I've got experience, and people see what I can do. In hindsight I think it was better that I came here."
Herron, who declined Pittsburgh's offer to match the amount of money the Packers paid him, arrived in Green Bay on Nov. 30. For a rookie running back it was the perfect situation. Green Bay's backfield was decimated by injuries, and door was wide open for Herron to get some playing time. When Samkon Gado sustained a knee injury late in the season, Herron moved up the ladder in the Packers' final two games. He had a team-high 14 carries for 33 yards and a touchdown against the Chicago Bears on Christmas Day at Lambeau Field, then started his first game as a pro in the season finale, carrying 23 times for 61 yards and a touchdown.
That experience, combined with Ahman Green and Najeh Davenport's inability to participate in the team's off-season mini-camps and Organized Team Activities practices, enabled Herron to switch off with Gado and practice a number of times with the first-team offense.
Herron still will have to have a solid training camp to make the final roster, but with Tony Fisher in St. Louis, his odds have improved. Herron worked on his pass-blocking during the mini-camps. Combine that with his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and size to play fullback will give him a better chance to win a roster spot.
"I showed last year that I can carry the load a little bit," Herron said. "As a rookie, it's a little overwhelming at times, but at the same time, it was a great experience. Now with Fisher gone, I know he was the third-down back, that spot's kind of open I think. I'm just trying to do all the things I can do no third down with pass blocking and catching the ball. … the things I can do, like the things that a third-down back does, that's what I'm trying to work on."
Gado has the inside track to start at running back when training camp opens July 28. Green (quadriceps) and Davenport (ankle) probably will not take part in practices early on in camp. Free agent Chaz Williams also will be make a push to earn a roster spot, but Herron will get the bulk of the carries behind Gado in early preseason games. If he can continue to play in pads the way he did in shorts in May and June, he will be playing for the Packers this fall, possibly nosing out Green or Davenport for a roster spot.
Herron is listed at 5-foot-11, 224 pounds, but said he weighed 220 pounds during the recent OTA's. Compared to the 6-foot-1, 252-pound William Henderson, and the 6-0, 250-pound Vonta Leach, Herron is undersized for a fullback, but it may be enough to bump either Leach or Henderson from the roster if the Packers decide to keep Gado, Green and Davenport as running backs. The Packers usually keep five players in the offensive backfield.
"He's a very natural, instinctive football player," said Packers coach Mike McCarthy about Herron. "I think he's had a tremendous spring, and I think he definitely has a place on our football team if he continues to perform like he has."
Herron had to fight to make the roster last season. He was selected in the seventh round of the 2005 NFL draft out of Northwestern University by the Steelers. He entered training camp fifth on the team's depth chart at running back and made the final roster, but was cut after two games. He was re-signed to the Steelers' practice squad four days later, but lingered there until the Packers called.
Herron only averaged 2.7 yards per carry, but Green Bay's offense struggled as a whole, and the offensive line was rarely in sync in 2005. Herron feels he has a lot more to offer the Packers this season.
"Getting the majority of the carries the last two games and playing on special teams … for me I felt like I wasn't at my peak performance because I was on the practice squad, but at the same time it was good," Herron said. "I got a lot of exposure in game-time situations."
In reality, Herron probably never would have gotten an opportunity to play as much in Pittsburgh late in the season as he did in Green Bay. For that reason, the running back made a wise decision by signing with the Packers.
Todd Korth is managing editor of Packer Report and PackerReport.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.