Ryan Grant had a breakthrough year in 2007 with 956 rushing yards, and he didn't make his first start until week 9. The recently re-signed Vernand Morency (normally the third down back), and rookie Brandon Jackson, who won the starting job in training camp, then lost it due to injuries and non-production, but came back and played very well down the stretch.
The team also has rookie DeShawn Wynn and Noah Herron, who ended up on injured reserve. Wynn showed enough talent to start a few games for the Packers, but needs to stay healthy and get in better shape. Herron was lost to the team in pre-season due to a knee injury, but was the third down back for the most part in 2006.
The Packers utilized rookie Korey Hall and John Kuhn at fullback, and both played pretty well. The Packers sometimes used both of them in a big set power running scheme. Plus, both Hall and Kuhn were exceptional on special teams.
"Yes, we're staying with the zone-run scheme," McCarthy said at the NFL scouting combine in February. "We do run aspects of power schemes that are adjustments to our zone schemes, so that's why I don't think that's a valid criticism, (that) because we play in cold weather we're running the wrong kind of run-game offense."
McCarthy knows that things must improve on the line, especially inside, where the scheme favors quickness over size. The key is consistency in the blocking.
"That's the whole theory of the thing, it keeps you out of negative runs," he said. "Just in a general sense, when you get into patterned schemes you're doing so much down blocking, there's more one-on-one blocking, where in the zone scheme if they don't make you (block one-on-one) you're able to double team and get up on the second level (i.e., linebackers), you don't have as much penetration, you're not as vulnerable to negative runs. That's the basic theory the zone scheme."
Look for the Packers to seek halfbacks who can be effective in the zone-run scheme, and also perhaps as a fullback as the lead blocker. The coaches and scouts will also look for special team skills that can help the club as well. Here are a few players that fit that criteria and who might be available when the Packers make a selection:
HB Felix Jones (Arkansas)
Round most likely selected - 1 or 2. The Packers probably won't get a chance to consider Jones, as the Dallas Cowboys have two picks ahead of Green Bay in round one. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones seems to be enamored with Jones, who like the owner, went to Arkansas. But Jones (5-11, 205) has nice talent, with excellent quickness, balance and vision. He also has the ability and speed (4.4 40 time) to return kickoffs, as he returned three for touchdowns at Arkansas.
HB Jonathan Stewart (Oregon)
Round most likely selected - 1 or 2. Stewart's toe injury and subsequent surgery has changed things a little for Stewart in terms of his draft status. Stewart (5-10, 230) has tendencies as a runner that would make him a natural for the zone blocking scheme the Packers utilize. He also catches the ball well and could return kicks.
HB Ray Rice (Rutgers)
Round most likely selected - 2 or 3. Rice (5-9, 205) is a little on the small side, but he runs close to the ground and is very tough to tackle. He is a natural for the zone blocking scheme. Rice rushed for more than 1,000 yards three straight years at Rutgers, scoring 44 touchdowns the last two. He is good in pass protection and is getting better as a receiver.
HB Chris Johnson (East Carolina)
Round most likely selected - 2 or 3. Johnson (5-10, 200) has rare speed (a 4.32 40 time) and nice vision as a runner. He would be a dangerous threat in the passing game, especially on screen plays and swing passes due to his electrifying speed. He could also be an excellent kickoff return specialist.
HB Jamaal Charles (Texas)
Round most likely selected - 2 or 3. Charles (5-11, 205) has excellent cutback ability and fine speed (4.4 40). He needs to improve on his blocking, however, but he has kickoff return specialist potential.
FB Owen Schmitt (West Virginia)
Round most likely selected - 4 or 5. Before Schmitt (6-2, 250) became a battering ram FB at West Virginia, he went to UW-River Falls where he was all-conference as a freshman. He is a physical, throwback style of player who has busted many a helmet. He is exceptional at running the ball and can catch well out of the backfield.