"I think we're OK there," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said of the depleted halfback group. "I'm not worried about Ryan (Grant) or Brandon (Jackson) or anybody we've got carrying the ball — John Kuhn thinks he's a tailback now.
Kuhn, the Green Bay Packers' versatile fullback, looked like a halfback with six carries for 30 yards last week. With Quinn Porter, Kregg Lumpkin and James Starks all hobbled by injuries — only Porter has the slightest shot of playing on Thursday against Indianapolis — Kuhn probably will get more carries as coach Mike McCarthy tries to save Grant for the regular season.
After Porter hobbled off with a sprained ankle in the fourth quarter at Seattle, the Packers turned to Kuhn. He responded with runs of 8, 3, 5, 5, 6 and 3 yards. Not just a banger at 250 pounds, Kuhn ran with surprising vision and burst.
Or, maybe it's not surprising. At Shippensburg — the same school that produced Rob Davis — Kuhn was the featured ball-carrier and produced 4,685 rushing yards and 53 touchdowns. He topped 100 yards in 26 games.
Kuhn wasn't drafted in 2005 and was signed by Pittsburgh, which moved him to fullback. He says he never questioned why he never got a chance to show his ability as a runner.
"Guys come into the league all the time and get recruited to play different positions," Kuhn said. "Coming out of college, I went to Pittsburgh and was told, ‘Hey, we're going to try to turn you into a fullback.' I embraced it and became a fullback."
Kuhn got two rushes and three receptions with the Packers in 2006 and 2007 before McCarthy made him the main character in one of his pet plays. With defenses focusing on Grant or Rodgers, Kuhn became a favorite short-yardage or goal-line runner. In 2008, Kuhn carried eight times for 10 yards and one touchdown and added two touchdowns on four receptions. Last season, he carried nine times for 19 yards and two touchdowns (including playoffs) and added two touchdowns on eight receptions.
Kuhn scored again with an extra-effort run in the preseason game against Cleveland.
"That kind of is a sister play to an outside zone when we run the halfback and we get all the guys flowing over the top and get me hitting it quick downhill," Kuhn said. "A lot of times, their eyes are fixated on Ryan, so when he starts to go, hopefully I can slip through underneath."
John Kuhn (30) follows Chad Clifton while leading the way for Ryan Grant.
Dilip Vishwanatl/Getty Images
"That's a great compliment," Kuhn said. "I'm glad (McCarthy) has that faith in me."
While the team-first Kuhn downplays it, his teammates are thrilled for him.
"I love it. That's my guy," Grant said. "Maybe for you guys it's surprising."
"He handed out his resume from Shippensburg that had all his yards on it and let us know," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. "He's an instinctive football player. It's one of those things you can't coach a lot. He's probably one of those kids, playing in the back yard at 6 or 7, he was pretty good. Probably was pretty good in high school. Ran the ball well in college and kind of ran it well the other night. We like to say he was just slow enough to hit those holes in our blocking schemes (laughs)."
Running backs coach Edgar Bennett's eyes light up when he talks about Kuhn. Maybe it's because of the similarities to their careers. Bennett was a dynamic fullback at Florida State who compiled 1,246 rushing yards, 1,095 receiving yards and 20 total touchdowns. A fourth-round pick in 1992, Bennett didn't move to halfback and become the Packers' featured ball-carrier until 1995.
"He was sound, smart as far as executing what was called, ran with some leverage, showed good leg drive and did a good job with his run reads and pressing his aiming point," Bennett said. "Another thing that you see with John is he's instinctive as a runner. He does have a good feel for that. He's got great size, and that's another thing that's attractive as far as being able to run with some power, being able to move the pile and things like that. I thought his performance was certainly a winning performance."
Not that Kuhn's career will follow the same path, but his ability to run the ball provides the flexibility to go with only two true halfbacks if the team isn't sold on Porter or the others. Kuhn certainly wouldn't turn down a few more carries.
"You know what? I have no problem helping out the team in any way asked," he said. "If that's what it takes, then that's what it takes."
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