You've got to walk before you can run

Green Bay's zone-blocking running game found little traction during Saturday's Family Night scrimmage. Still, with six straight rushes to open the festivities, Mike McCarthy gave a glimpse of the offense's new attitude.

First-year Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy promised he'd be devoted to the running game. That he'd keep running the ball, even if it wasn't working.

"Yeah, they boo you when you keep running and things like that, but it's a commitment," McCarthy said before the start of training camp. "It's a long-term commitment. You know, people sometimes have the tendency to get away from the run game earlier in the game. You need to commit to it. That's not to say you start every game with 10 runs, but you have to make a commitment over the course of the season if you think it's going to work."

Sure, it was only a scrimmage, and sure, McCarthy no doubt had scripted his opening plays weeks, if not months, in advance, but with the No. 1 offense on the field, McCarthy called six straight running plays to open Saturday night's showcase practice.

The results weren't there, but McCarthy certainly got his point across.

The first six rushes of the scrimmage covered a mere 16 yards. The final five of those picked up nine yards, including a big, fat nothing on a fourth-and-1 early on the first set of downs.

Those are some ugly results. You'd think the No. 1 offense could devour the No. 2 defense like Japanese eating machine Takeru Kobayashi devoured bratwurst earlier in the afternoon in Sheboygan. Still, McCarthy saw enough to please him.

"Running the football is a four-quarter journey," McCarthy said. "Not very often in this league do you come out and just start ripping people in the run game. I didn't look at it at all as the run game struggled."

McCarthy says the beauty of his zone-blocking running scheme, which features the running back briefly biding his time before making one cut and shooting forward, is a bad run play goes for a yard or so instead of going backward because of its quick-hitting and no-frills nature.

Indeed, even the stagnant six-play series to start the scrimmage included just one no gain and nothing with the dreaded minus sign in front of it.

"The biggest thing about running the football is you don't want negative runs," said McCarthy, who labeled it a "solid start" for his rushing attack. "You want to keep hammering away at the defense for a four-quarter commitment."

Now, you can look at this from two vantage points.

From the glass-is-half-empty camp, you could say the Packers' No. 1 offense absolutely should have done better against a bunch of backup defenders.

And while this is true, McCarthy's glass-is-half-full camp can point out starting left tackle Chad Clifton was replaced in the starting lineup by Junius Coston, who hadn't played the position since high school.

The optimists also can rightfully point out that the Packers' kiddie corps at guard has all of, what, nine days of practice under their belts? The optimists also can point to Ahman Green and Najeh Davenport watching from the sideline.

Both groups are right with their assessments, but as the adage goes, you have to walk before you can run.

McCarthy said the key is to keep hammering away with the running game, and those 1- , 2- and 3-yard runs in the first quarter will become 5-, 7- and double-digit-yard runs once the opposing defense gets worn down.

That, of course, is the one thing that can't be quantified in a scrimmage, though Samkon Gado's 10-yard touchdown run - led by kiddie corps guard Daryn Colledge - was promising. That run helped bump the No. 1 offense's final rushing totals to 32 yards on nine rushes, or a pedestrian 3.6 yards per carry.

Whether the Packers can actually run the ball this season - they ranked 31st in the league last year - will not be known until Week 1 and beyond. Not even the preseason games will shed any light on the subject, because the starting offensive line won't be in the game long enough to impose its will and the opposing defense won't be in the game long enough to get worn down and surrender.

Still, the preseason schedule, which begins Saturday night in San Diego, is critical. Colledge and fellow rookie guard Jason Spitz have a month to stop playing like rookies. Clifton has a month to get healthy. Scott Wells has a month to show he's up to the task. The line as a whole has a month to perfect McCarthy's zone- and cut-blocking scheme.

If nothing else, gone are the days of the coaching staff giving up on the run and letting Brett Favre throw it 51 times - you know, like Mike Sherman did against the Bears on Christmas.

Clearly, the Packers have a lot of work to do, which McCarthy said after the scrimmage. Still, you can't run the ball effectively until you bother to run the ball at all. And by that measure, McCarthy is a breath of fresh air.

Lawrence is a regular contributor to Send comments to

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