Position of priority

The Green Bay Packers enter the 2007 season with a no-name backfield, which could be a major stumbling block for the team's offense, says PackerReport.com's Dylan Tomlinson.

If the Green Bay Packers to have a chance to improve upon last season's surprising 8-8 record they're going to need someone to emerge as a go-to running back.

With Vernand Morency and rookie Brandon Jackson, that may not be a good thing. That's not a knock in any way at Jackson, who could prove to be a perfect fit in the Packers' system. Jackson played in a similar system at Nebraska and despite missing a mini-camp due to a scheduling conflict and some of the organized team activities due to injury, he still should be the favorite to win the starting job at some point during the 2007 season.

Morency, who rushed for 434 yards and two touchdowns, was a respectable backup to Ahman Green last season. While starting in place of an injured Green, he rushed for 99 yards against the Philadelphia Eagles and even eclipsed the century mark when he rushed for 101 against the Arizona Cardinals.

But if the Packers had any great amount of confidence in Morency being able to be the starter, they wouldn't have grabbed Jackson in the second round. Sure, Packers general manager Ted Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy have said all the right things about this being an opportunity for Morency to emerge during training camp. That's the attitude the Packers have to have, because it's not realistic to think that Jackson can carry the load at the beginning of the season. That was the case last season for Jacksonville rookie Maurice Jones-Drew. Jones-Drew, a second-round pick, started slowly before tearing up the NFL for 10 touchdowns in the second half of the season. Even as well as Jones-Drew played, he still only made one start as a rookie.

When training camp opens on July 28, more attention will be paid to the running back position than just about any position in recent memory. The Packers have been spoiled in recent years with Green rushing for more than 1,000 yards in six of the seven seasons he spent in a Green Bay uniform. Since 1999, the Packers have only failed to have a 1,000-yard rusher once, in 2005. It's not a coincidence that Green Bay was an abysmal 4-12 in that injury-riddled season.

To say the Packers have issues at running back would be a major understatement. It can be argued that with Morency, Jackson and Noah Herron that no team has a more unproven stable of running backs than the Packers. While Thompson was smart in his decision not to overpay to keep Green, that doesn't mean that he was ever properly replaced. Thompson likely thought his running back problems could be solved in the first round of the draft, but the Buffalo Bills threw a wrench into that thinking when they grabbed California running back Marshawn Lynch with the No. 12 pick, four ahead of the Packers, who had to settle for Jackson late in the second round.

Jackson could wind up being a steal. There are plenty of running backs in the NFL who are stars despite not being first-round picks. But even players like San Francisco's Frank Gore, Cincinnati's Rudi Johnson and Philadelphia's Brian Westbrook struggled as rookies before becoming Pro Bowlers. To expect Jackson to buck that trend might be unrealistic.

The Packers have been able to win without a dominant running game. In 1998, the Packers went 11-5 and made the playoffs despite not having a single player rush for more than 386 yards. But that was with a Brett Favre who was still in his prime.

Favre, while still an effective quarterback, can't carry the Packers anymore. If the Packers can't establish at least a respectable running game, the wins are going to be scarce during the 2007 season.

Dylan Tomlinson

Dylan Tomlinson is a frequent contributor to PackerReport.com. E-mail him at dylan1226@gmail.com.

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