Packers need a backup plan

Questions surround the five candidates to be Ryan Grant's primary backup at running back, but with three young QBs to break in, they will be given precious few chances to show their stuff.

One key involving the Green Bay Packers' offense has nothing to do with Aaron Rodgers, but, at the same time, has everything to do with him.

The Packers will enter training camp without a clear backup running back to starter Ryan Grant. When there was a veteran quarterback under center, that wouldn't have been a problem. Coach Mike McCarthy could have dedicated more time and snaps to the running game to figure things out.

But, with a first-year starting quarterback in Rodgers and a couple of rookies who will need plenty of reps to determine whether they're able to handle being Rodgers' primary backup, McCarthy is going to have to focus on the passing game a lot during camp.

That means precious few snaps for the group of Brandon Jackson, Vernand Morency, DeShawn Wynn, Noah Herron and Kregg Lumpkin to show what they can do.

The obvious front-runner is Jackson, who after a mostly ineffective rookie season rushed for 113 yards on 20 rushes against Detroit in the regular-season finale, then added 34 yards on eight attempts against Seattle in the playoffs. This offseason, he has made impressive gains in the weight room.

Whether his late-season play was a mirage or a sign of things to come, and whether his physical gains in the gym will lead to longer gains on the gridiron, remain to be seen.

While those are big questions, they are no bigger than the questions surrounding the other players in the mix.

— Morency had at least a 50-50 chance to be the starter entering last season, but a knee injury took him permanently off track. Once healthy, he wound up being the Packers' third-down back, but he didn't scare anybody in that role. If he returns to the form that had him averaging 4.6 yards per carry in 2006, he will push Jackson for the No. 2 job.

— There's a reason why the leading rusher for college football's national champions lasted until the seventh round in last year's draft. There were questions about Wynn's toughness before the draft, and Wynn did nothing to quiet those doubts. Still, he was considerably more productive than Jackson early last season. Now that he knows what it takes, will Wynn answer the challenge? He's got plenty of motivation. With his limitations in the passing game, he'll be either the No. 2 back or unemployed.

— Herron has what Wynn lacks: heart. What he lacks in tools he makes up for in want-to. He landed on injured reserve with a knee injury sustained in last year's preseason after averaging 4.1 yards per rush and 7.3 yards per reception as the No. 3 back in 2006. If he has recovered, he'll be in position to regain that role.

— Lumpkin is an intriguing prospect. He was dogged by injuries at Georgia, but the school has a history of putting out under-the-radar running backs. That list is headlined by former Broncos star Terrell Davis, who was the best back in the NFL for a few years but rushed for just 445 yards as a senior.

You don't need to be John Madden to understand the importance of the No. 2 running back. The Giants and Colts showed that in winning the last two Super Bowls. Grant is tough, but a running back's season can end in the blink of an eye.

Beyond that, when the Packers hired McCarthy as coach, he touted his love for the running game. Without Brett Favre, McCarthy might return to his run-first roots. If he does, the Packers will need someone to carry the load when Grant needs a breather. It will be up to Jackson and Co. to prove they're capable in the limited opportunities they're likely to get this summer.

Steve Lawrence is a frequent contributor to PackerReport.com. E-mail him at steve_lawrence_packers@yahoo.com


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