What's behind Grant?

Building depth at running back should be a high priority for Packers, says PackerReport.com's Doug Ritchay

Twelve months ago, the running back situation with the Green Bay Packers was a serious area of concern. Gone was Ahman Green, who signed a big deal with the Houston Texans, and ready to step up was ...

After the NFL draft in April, the Packers were counting on second-round pick Brandon Jackson to step up, but the former Nebraska Cornhusker never did. Little-known Ryan Grant then stole the show during the second half of the season and seems to have settled the starting running back spot — assuming he and the Packers can agree to a multi-year deal sometime before the start of the season — but that doesn't mean the Packers aren't in a position to upgrade at running back.

Sure, the Packers haven't given up on Jackson. He's a second-rounder they believe in, but you need to know your backup is capable. In the NFL, few teams have the luxury of going with one main ball carrier — it's a by-committee position now. Knowing Jackson or DeShawyn Wynn aren't locks for the backup spot, the Packers likely will consider adding a running back during the draft next month. As history has proven, you don't need to pick a running back early to find a productive one.

Coach Mike McCarthy was asked at the Scouting Combine about Green Bay's running back situation now that Grant has established himself as the starter.

"I feel better about the group this year than I did last year, no doubt," he said. "Because we had a lot of question marks last year, and what's refreshing about the group, you have a lot of youth there, and you have a couple guys on IR that have really taken advantage of their season on IR, in the weight room, going to all the meetings and being part of the team.

"I think our running back situation will be very, very competitive. Now, as far as taking another one in the draft, if he's the guy up on the board, I'm sure we have no problem drafting him."

The running back position has taken on a new look since Brett Favre retired. Aaron Rodgers steps into a tough spot, trying to replace a legend, and it certainly will be made easier if the Packers can run the ball with the success they did the second half of 2007.

That means Grant has to continue to develop, but it also means the Packers need to find a second option.

During Favre's career, the Packers were a pass-first team, and with good reason. Why hand the ball off 40 times when Favre is your quarterback? But with Rodgers lacking significant playing time, the best way to acclimate him to being a starter is to take some of the pressure off of him.

Although the Packers have more pressing needs on draft day, like finding a cornerback, tight end and defensive end, as McCarthy said, the team won't pass on a running back with the credentials to help.

GM Ted Thompson would like to give Jackson another shot, but he can't whiff on picking a good runner in the hopes Jackson develops. Last season, Jackson lacked instincts and ran into the backs of blockers a lot.

If that hasn't changed, the Packers have to address this position. For the first time in a long time the Packers very well could be a run-first team, which means more than one option has be available. More than one good option, that is.

Wasting no time
The Packers' decision to retire Favre's number 4 this coming season is no shock. Teams normally wait longer for this type of ceremony, but remember what former Packers president Bob Harlan said after waiting too long to retire Reggie White's No. 92 and then he passed away? Harlan regretted not being proactive, returning White to Lambeau Field for a ceremony.

White's number was retired with his family in attendance, but not himself. Harlan didn't want that to happen again, so he said once Favre retired, the organization would likely move fast to honor the quarterback.

Another reason it's smart to do it this coming season? Favre will know many of the players on the team, so it won't be like he's returning to a group of players who don't know him. It will mean more to him.

Doug Ritchay is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com and Packer Report magazine. E-mail him at dritchay@sbcglobal.net.

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