"Used to be, used to be," Edgar Bennett said with a hearty laugh. "Back in the Stone Age."
From 1993 through 1995, Bennett was the Packers' second-leading receiver each season, catching 198 balls during that span. From 2000 through 2006, the Packers' new No. 34, Ahman Green, was just as good as Bennett out of the backfield. He led the team in receptions in 2000 and 2001, finished second in 2002, 2003 and 2006, and was third in 2004.
Bennett was as reliable as could be as an outlet receiver — "I appreciate that," Bennett, the Packers' running backs coach, said of that comment. So was Green. It's a dynamic the Packers have missed since Green signed with Houston as a free agent in 2007.
"Some of them, as far as the No. 1 read, not so much," Bennett said of his 242 receptions in a Packers uniform. "Every once in a while, but the majority of times, it was more of a late checkdown, reaction-type deal."
It's that checkdown that has been AWOL and is at least partially to blame for a few of the 25 sacks allowed by the Packers. The Packers hope adding Green can add that dimension back into the offense.
But Green's not the only change. The Packers' backfield heading into Sunday's game at Cleveland bares little resemblance to the backfield that took the field in Week 1 against Chicago. Halfback Ryan Grant and fullback John Kuhn remain the starters. Gone are backup halfback DeShawn Wynn, who is on injured reserve with a knee injury, and backup fullback Korey Hall, who is out with a calf injury. Here are Green, who was signed on Wednesday, and halfback Brandon Jackson, who returned last week after missing the first four regular-season games with a sprained ankle. Also here is rookie fullback Quinn Johnson, who was a gameday inactive the first four weeks.
It's certainly a new look. Wynn, who had dropped two of the four balls thrown at him and didn't get anything accomplished in the run game, either, was a reliable and willing pass blocker.
"Pass protection, a big part of it is attitude," Bennett said. "Your set, your punch, your finish, those are some of your fundamentals that you work on and focus on. It all starts with attitude. He was very good at that."
Jackson caught 30 passes last season but was neither explosive with the ball — his long reception was 18 yards, with an average of 6.2 — nor much more than an average pass blocker. He showed what he could add to the offense on Sunday by making a nifty, on-the-run 12-yard catch as Rodgers was rushed, but he also fumbled late in the third quarter.
RB Brandon Jackson
Scott Boehm/Getty Images
Bolstering the backfield is Green, and he certainly passes the eye test. Philbin and Rodgers called Green a "specimen" this week. Philbin said the coaches haven't worked out Green's role, but considering Grant led the NFL in percentage of non-quarterback carries last season and has received 88.3 percent of the Packers' running back carries this season, it's probably safe to assume that Green won't be getting 15 rushes per game.
Bennett called Green a "very physical" pass blocker, and his ability to catch the ball certainly isn't in question. That would make him a viable candidate on third down.
"That's one thing he did a good job of in the workout and in his past," Bennett said. "He's had good hands. That was obvious in what he's shown in practice. It's good having him back. He's healthy and raring to go."
Meanwhile, with Johnson making a smashing debut against Detroit — pun intended — the Packers might have an interesting decision on their hands once Hall is healthy. Kuhn continues to blossom as a jack-of-all-trades sort. He does everything adequately, and his ability to catch and run at the goal line is just something else for defenses to worry about.
With Hall out last week, Johnson — the fifth-round pick out of LSU — got his first playing time. McCarthy worked Johnson into the game early, and he got the bulk of the fullback snaps with the game well in hand in the second half.
"I thought he had a good start," Philbin said. "For the first time he played in a real, live, regular-season game, I thought he represented himself well. He's got a long way to go but he played relatively fast. The thing you always worry about with a young player is the speed of the game initially going to get to him? Whether it's the reads or the things that he has to do to do his job, is he going to be thinking too much when he gets in the game? I don't think that was the case the other day. That's a good sign for a young player."
As he showed during the last couple preseason games, Johnson is a punishing blocker. There's not one bit of finesse to his game. It's see defender, hit defender. Twice, he put Lions rookie linebacker DeAndre Levy to the turf, and between Johnson's blocking and Detroit's short-handed defense being worn down, Grant racked up the yards in the fourth quarter.
"He did what we thought he would do. He finished blocks, he displaced people," Bennett said, noting Johnson wasn't "100 percent" in his performance. "A couple of plays, it kind of goes back to fundamentals. A lot of it is your approach, making sure you keep your head and eyes up so you can see and find your defender. At the snap of the ball, there's a lot of movement, and it is about the approach. That's a big part of it."
Johnson has been working overtime with Bennett, and Johnson gave Bennett the credit for his strong performance.
"I think it went pretty good. For the most part, I went in there and did what the coach asked me to do," Johnson said. "That's because of him, because he coaches me real good before I got out there. Once I got out there, I felt pretty confident and comfortable. He always tells me, ‘Football's football. Just go out there and do what you can do.'"
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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.