To run a West Coast offense without a running back who can catch the ball is like running an IndyCar on 87-octane gasoline.
So, enter Ahman Green, who at 32 years old and just one carry short of Jim Taylor's franchise record maybe can provide an ingredient that's been missing in this offense since, oh, Green chased a megabucks contract with Houston following the 2006 season.
"I'm glad to be back home," Green said while sitting at his locker on Wednesday.
Green's days as a franchise running back are long, long gone, the toll of a whopping 2,400 battering-ram rushes and high-collision receptions during the first 11 years of his career. For the $27 million paper value of the Texans' four-year contract, Green touched the ball only 169 times in two years. He had 405 touches during his record-setting 2003 season alone.
But maybe Green has a little magic left in those massive legs. Or more importantly, in his hands. Ryan Grant has 12 reception, two drops and a key fumble. DeShawn Wynn, who was put on injured reserve to make room for Green, had two catches and two drops. Brandon Jackson made his season debut on Sunday and promptly fumbled.
Those three backs have combined for 15 receptions. Seventeen running backs have at least that many.
For years, Edgar Bennett, Dorsey Levens and Green made the Packers' screen game one of the most lethal plays in all of football. In his first two-plus years in Green Bay, Grant has one reception of 21 yards and another of 20. In his first two-plus years, Jackson has been relatively sure-handed but his longest reception has gone for 18 yards.
From 2000 through 2006, Green had 18 receptions of 20-plus yards, including a four-game streak midway through the 2003 season.
"I think he can definitely do some good things for us on third down," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. "Ahman, he always had a great feel for the screen game. The screen game is often an underappreciated part of our offense. We call a lot of screens that you guys maybe wouldn't know about. A lot of times, I throw to the other side or I check out of it. That's something we'd like to incorporate a little bit more. We did some good things against Minnesota on some screens. It's all about a feel, and Ahman in the two years we got to play together, definitely had a great feel."
What the Packers' running backs have lacked, specifically as receivers, the offense has lacked in consistency. Eighty-four percent of Rodgers' passes this season (138 of 164) have been targeted to wide receivers or tight ends, making for a predictable passing game and increased pressure on the quarterback.
"Ahman Green, it's nice to have him back," coach Mike McCarthy said. "We really felt that Ahman would upgrade our running back group."
Green averaged 49.6 receptions during his seven seasons in Green Bay. Since then, no back has had more than 30 catches. Whether Green can be that guy again was impossible to discern on Wednesday. Green was brought along slowly during his first day of on-the-field work since his 2008 season ended almost 11 months ago with what he called a minor knee injury.
This is what he's been working for and why he never sold his house in suburban Green Bay.
"It's just one of those things. If I knew I was done with this sport, it'd been over. No debating, no arguing, no mulling over, thinking about it," Green said. "I probably would have come here and signed a one-day contract to retire as a Packer, call it quits. But just something was missing after these past two years that I didn't want to quite finish that with. The way my career was in Houston, I didn't want that to basically become my legacy, finishing that way. Because I had a great run here, and I wanted to finish that, in terms of my way, but also the man upstairs' way, to finish it in a good way, the best way that I can."
And for the Packers, the best way would be for Green to be the reliable role player that Rodgers can count on. If Green can catch the ball, making a defender miss and break a tackle, this will a good personnel decision. If not, then it's nothing more than a ceremonial signing and a failed attempt at bolstering a role that has been a major weakness.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.