At the start of the preseason there weren't many questions about the running back corp, or if they were questions they basically boiled down to one of two fundamental questions:
"Will [fill in name of running back here] be healthy?"
"Will [fill in name of running back here] be able to improve?"
Besides those two questions the rest was known. There wasn't a question of a guy pushing to make the team. There wasn't a starting spot open. The pecking order was basically known. James Starks was going to be the starter and main back. Brandon Saine had the eye of the coaches and looked to be to be in the mix for some carries. Alex Green was recovering from a knee injury but had a world of promise as a third down back.
At fullback there were even fewer questions, really no questions at all. The Packers would probably only keep one and it was going to be John Kuhn. Maybe there was some casual interest in what Nic Cooper could do, but he wasn't expected to push for the 53 or Kuhn's job.
We are now through about a month of camp and two preseason games. The results of this time has turned up more questions than answers due to injuries and disappointment. Oh, and one big somewhat anti-Ted Thompson signing. After the jump we'll breakdown the state of this position group and what new questions have arisen over the course of camp.
Perhaps the biggest question that hasn't been asked yet, but is silently on everyone's mind is "Who is the odd man out?" The Packers went out and signed Cedric Benson not too long ago. It's doubtful that the Packers would keep 5 RB's this year (although possible) and so one of the three guys who were assumed to make the team earlier in camp may not make the roster after all. There is also the possibility that Benson would make the team, but it's doubtful. Common wisdom would says that Saine is the guy moved to the bubble. He doesn't have a great ceiling for talent and was the lowest on the depth chart at the beginning of camp. Starks could also be in trouble though. He's coming off a disappointing year and still struggling to stay healthy. If the Packers learned their lesson with Justin Harrell, then they should realize that sometimes it's better to keep the less talented but more available option for a player than to gamble on a guy with high upside but can't stay on the field.
As for individual performances in the preseason games, relatively few running backs have actually taken part. Saine and Du'ane Bennett have not participated in any of the games. Starks and Kuhn did not play last night. That leaves Green (who has been on a snap count all camp), Cooper, and Marc Tyler as the backs who have really put in the most game time so far.
Green looks like a guy who is shaking off rust. This isn't surprising considering his recovery from a knee injury last year. He showed some decent burst and speed hitting the hole against the Browns. He was also able to pick up blitzes with the first team offense. He hasn't broken a big run yet though, and hasn't made a strong case to become the starting running back. He will probably make the team and slowly be integrated into the offense in order to let his knee heal. Unfortunately most of his impact will probably have to come next year once the knee is completely healed.
Tyler has disappointed. When you consider the fact that he is an undrafted rookie who was not expected to make the team, this is a notable development. Tyler showed some decent ability to run hard and push the pile in San Diego, but he squandered the last drive of the Packers by fumbling the ball. Against Cleveland this past week he did not put in a good game. Sometimes stats lie, but in Tyler's case his stats do tell the whole story: 8 carries for 6 yards with his longest run of 4 yards pulls 1 reception for -3 yards. He got nine touches for a total of three yards.
In Starks one performance in San Diego he had a bad drop and a fumble. He also had five carries for 16 yards.
The wild card out of this bunch is going to be Benson. Benson is not known to be a flashy runner. He's not going to break big gains. He's a power runner who gets a little here and a little there and slowly wears down the defense. This can work in a four minute drills, but he will also not get the amount of carries that he is used to.
As we go forward the following questions remain....Will Benson and the Packers be a good fit? Will Benson take that starting job from Starks? Who is going to be healthy enough at the start of the season to make the team? Who is going to be the odd man out among Benson, Starks, Green, and Saine? Will Bennett or Tyler show enough to make the practice team?