Looking for a few good backs

Soon all 32 NFL teams will be trimming their roster with mandatory cuts, in what Homer Simpson refers to as "the easiest part of the job." As for head coach Mike McCarthy? It will be a daunting task, especially after the Packers' impressive 38-10 win over Atlanta, and particularly at the running back position.

While Ahman Green and Samkon Gado nurse injuries, Najeh Davenport, Noah Herron, and Arliss Beach have all seen action with mixed results. Considering McCarthy plans to predicate his offense on rushing the football, who he chooses to retain is critical. As West Coast innovator Bill Walsh says, this style of offense relies heavily on the pass setting up the run. McCarthy's rushing attack must adapt this finishing attitude, and it begins with picking the correct crop of backs.

First thing's first. Green and Gado need to see the field. It's paramount for the duo to gain reps with newbie guards Jason Spitz, Daryn Colledge, and Tony Moll. Is Green's cutting ability the perfect fit behind this trio? Will Gado's vision mesh with the rookie linemen? These questions must be answered in game situations ASAP, for McCarthy to make proper judgments. Cincinnati's attacking defense would be an ideal measuring stick.

Davenport, on the other hand, has received plenty of action with a meager 42 yards on 16 carries (2.6 per attempt) this preseason. You could blame Green Bay's ultra-green line, but on several occasions Davenport lacked explosion into lanes in the same way he awed many in 2003 (5.5 avg.) and 2004 (5.1 avg.). What the injury-prone, Miami product does in the next two games may determine his employment status come September.

Herron and Beach are the wild cards. Scat-back Herron has shown flashes, as a nifty third quarter, 10-yard run proved. Beach out-performed all Packer backs against Atlanta behind powerful downhill running that led to 5.6 yards a clip. But are two virtual no-names worth roster spots, let alone extended observation? Absolutely. If Denver's running back derby proves anything, it's that Joe Schmo gems are out there. All it takes is for the right player to meet the right system. The Falcons game teased viewers that Beach could be that diamond in the rough. Granted he was facing Atlanta's last rung of defense, but success merits a further look.

Beach's situation is no different than Tampa Bay's Bruce Gradkowski, who deserves playing time against number-one defenses after lights out performances against the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins. While incumbents Chris Simms and Tim Rattay have yet to eclipse 30 yards passing in a game, Gradkowski is 22-for-27 for 297 yards and three touchdowns. I don't care if the Toledo standout faced the Dolphins and Jets cheerleaders. Production is production. How do you think Matt Hasselbeck evolved into a Super Bowl finalist signal-caller?

Expect a heavy emphasis on the run over the next two preseason games. Brett Favre silenced his growing band of critics. Greg Jennings has firmly earned a starting job among the Pack's wide receivers. By September, Tyrone Culver may have fans forgetting about Marquand Manuel and Marviel Underwood's season-ending injury.

Therefore, McCarthy's chief concern is obviously the backfield. Putting Beach on the field earlier than the fourth quarter would give the coach a much improved evaluation. Ideally, he'd love to see Green, Davenport and Gado return with vengeance and lock up roster spots but according to the NFL's credo, "What have you done for me lately", shocking cuts at 1265 Lambeau Avenue may be in store. The next two games are extremely urgent for all of the Packers' backs.

Editor's note: Tyler Dunne is a freelance writer from Salamanca, N.Y., and frequent contributor to PackerReport.com.

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