Training camp preview: Running backs

Halfback Ryan Grant has emerged as one of the team's most important players, and battles loom as his backups and possibly at fullback.

Based on their professional resumes, few players are as important to the Green Bay Packers as running back Ryan Grant.

Before Grant emerged last season, the Packers were fortunate to pick up 3 yards per rush. Everything changed once Grant burst onto the scene, though. He rushed for 1,186 yards and 11 touchdowns in 12 games (including the playoffs), including six 100-yard games. Big plays became commonplace, with Grant ripping off runs of 23 or more yards in 10 of those games, including a stretch of nine straight.

While Grant's contract situation remains in limbo — agent Alan Herman repeatedly has said Grant would not sign the $380,000 tender and report to training camp — the situation shouldn't linger deep into training camp. He needs the Packers and the Packers need him.

"He's in a little bit of a unique situation," general manager Ted Thompson said during Thursday's shareholders meeting, alluding to the fact Grant won't be eligible for unrestricted free agency until he's 28, an age when teams might shy away from giving him a big-money contract.

"We do not anticipate a long-term problem," Thompson added.

At 225 pounds and with a decisive running style, Grant packs quite a punch. And he's got surprising speed for a man his size, as evidenced by his string of long runs that included a pair of 60-plus-yard scoring jaunts.

More than his physical attributes, though, is Grant's knack for making something out of nothing. He is an obvious fit for the one-cut style demanded by the zone-blocking scheme. That was apparent when Grant added immediate juice to the NFL's last-ranked running game that found no traction with Brandon Jackson and DeShawn Wynn.

Getting Grant up to speed by the time the season kicks off — not to mention improving his blitz pickup and receiving skills — is paramount. For as much as Jackson and Wynn improved in the Packers' offseason program, they have no track record for success.

Jackson, a second-round pick last year, averaged a woeful 2.6 yards per carry while starting the first three games of the season, showing no patience to wait for his blocking and no power to break the initial tackle. Wynn dropped to the seventh round of last year's draft because of questions of his toughness, and he did nothing to prove his detractors wrong during an injury-marred training camp and regular season.

Jackson enters training camp as the front-runner to be the No. 2 halfback, with Noah Herron and Vernand Morency battling for the third-down role. Those roles are critical. The Steelers, Colts and Giants won the last three Super Bowls with one-two punches in the backfield.

Starter Korey Hall returns at fullback and is the favorite to retain that position, though he lost some playing time to the more physical John Kuhn late last season. The Packers are counting on Hall to continue the improvement he made last season, when as a rookie he was transitioning from being a college linebacker.

Massive Ryan Powdrell is an intriguing blocker, and Corey White did enough last preseason to merit a spot on the practice squad and a second look this summer.

Whoever emerges, the Packers need better blocking and receiving from the fullbacks.

Bill Huber writes for Packer Report. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com


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