Back of the future

Morency deserves a chance to start in Packers' backfield

When the Green Bay Packers traded Samkon Gado to Houston for Vernand Morency earlier this season, many rated the importance of the trade on a scale of 1-10 at about a five.

Backup for backup. Nothing more than that. However, as the season has progressed, Morency has displayed the ability to possibly be more than just a backup. One of those displays was Sunday at Lambeau Field against the Detroit Lions. The former Oklahoma State Cowboy rushed 7 times for 54 yards and two touchdowns. Not earth-shattering numbers, but it was his two touchdown runs which stood out. On both runs (14 and 21 yards), Morency showed speed, quickness and vision.

He showed more explosiveness than starter Ahman Green has showed all season. Green has been solid, but after suffering his quadriceps injury last year, he clearly isn't the big-play back he once was. Yes, I do know he has a 70-yard scoring run.

Morency has 78 carries for 380 yards with the Packers, which means every run he's averaging a bulky 4.9 yards per carry. Meanwhile, Green has 946 yards on 226 carries for a solid 4.2 average. With Green's contract expiring after the season, the Packers have a decision to make. Keep Green at a reasonable price or go in a different direction, which could include Morency as a starter. This situation will play out in the off-season, but if the Packers are thinking long-term, and money are money conscious, Morency could be the way to go.

After Sunday's game, Morency was asked about his future beyond the 2006 season.

"My job is to get with (running backs coach) Edgar Bennett and get better every day," said Morency, dodging the question like he did Lions defenders Sunday. "I'm not looking to what's going on."

Morency has teased us this season with his talent. This year, Morency had a 99-yard performance at Philadelphia and a 101-yard effort against Arizona. In addition to Sunday's game, Morency had 69 yards against the 49ers. That's four good performances in limited chances. Green has been a mild surprise this season, because nobody knew how he would return from an injury which basically ended Santana Dotson's career in 2001. He has held his own, and because of his unknown status entering the season, the Packers have spelled him with Morency and others. It has paid off.

However, when the off-season arrives, the Packers need to make a business decision. If Green wants too much money, they may have to tell their second all-time leading rusher to look elsewhere. Considering how good Green has been since coming to Green Bay, it would not be the right way to end his Packers career.

Still, when you watch Morency run, there's added juice. He's not a Pro Bowler, but sometimes backs just need a chance.

Who was Willie Parker before Jerome Bettis got injured?

Who was Frank Gore before this season?

Not to say Morency will follow the footsteps of these young stars, but how do you know for sure? There's one way to find out, give Morency a chance.

There's three options the Packers can look at in determining their starting running back for 2007: Re-sign Green and tell him he's splitting carries, 50-50, with Morency.

Make Morency the starter and either sign a veteran free agent or draft a running back. As we've seen in the draft – Denver being the obvious team – effective running backs can be found well after the first round.

Draft a running back in the first or second round and have him battle with Morency for the starting position.

If the Packers decide to go with Green as their starter, not only may they not be playing their best back, they may be leading Green into a wall. All running backs, with the exception of Barry Sanders who retired early, lose their legs. Emmitt Smith did and the Cowboys didn't re-sign Smith, who finished his career with Arizona. Walter Payton's last season he was holding off a young Neal Anderson. The Bears played Payton, because who he was, but Anderson clearly had more gas in the tank. Payton rushed for less than 1,000 yards.

It's better to get rid of a running back with a little left in the tank, rather than keep him and watch him run out of gas. If we watch Green slow down and run like William Henderson, many will question why the Packers brought Green back. Morency, who backed up Tatum Bell in college, was asked about Green's status and said, "My role's my role. Ahman's our guy."

Right choice of words, but after watching Morency this season, the Packers' guy in the backfield next season could be a former Houston Texan. He's young, has speed and the more he plays, the better he gets.

It's almost like watching Green when he arrived in Green Bay. He was expected to back up Dorsey Levens, but after Levens was lost for the season early in 2000, Green took over and never looked back.

Green was never supposed to be threatening Jim Taylor's all-time Packers rushing mark, but he is. Morency was never expected to be a possible successor to Green, but he is.

And a couple more runs like Sunday will convince more and more people Morency is the Packers' next feature back.

Think it's far-fetched for a former third-round pick from the Big 12 Conference to get traded to the Packers to be a backup and surprisingly become a starter in short time?

We saw it 2000 and we may see it in 2007.

Doug Ritchay

Doug Ritchay is a longtime sportswriter and former Packers beat writer for the Green Bay News-Chronicle. E-mail at

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