When running back Cedric Benson was diagnosed with a Lisfranc sprain this season and was ruled out for the entire year, most Packers fans assumed that the pre-season signee had already played his last snaps in Green Bay. Indeed, this seemed like a logical assumption, as Benson was a veteran back who would be 30 years old when the 2013 season started and because the Packers had no commitment to him after this season. An interview with Benson seems to indicate that he hopes to return to Green Bay next season, a move which could well throw even more confusion into the already muddled Packers backfield.
Several Benson quotes from after the season were featured in a Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel article this week, and a few of them in particular stand out as signs that Benson clearly enjoyed his time in Green Bay and hopes to return as the team's starter next season:
- I've been around a long time, and I know it's a strange league. But I really hope I get another chance here.
- The timing of it was really hard. I was just getting comfortable with everything around here and was starting to get rolling a little bit. Hopefully, I showed these guys enough that I'm part of their plans for next year.
- I've gotten a lot of positive feedback from teammates and some of the staff, but they're not the ones that make those decisions. I don't have a preference to be anywhere else.
There can be no misinterpreting those statements; Benson wants to remain a Packer for next year. The problem arises when you look at the team's roster and try to narrow down exactly who would be the starter for opening week, and even more interestingly who could be left off the roster entirely. Let's break down the options.
You know what you're getting with Benson, a tough runner inside who is steady but not flashy. He'll contribute in the receiving game as well, and his veteran presence would likely help bring some consistency to the position.
Green got the best shot at the starting job when Benson went down, but whether due to his own faults or those of the offensive line he failed to deliver. He led the team in rushes and rushing yards, but averaged a miserable 3.4 yards per carry and was only somewhat helpful as a receiver out of the backfield, supposedly one of his better qualities.
The enigma of the bunch, Starks certainly has loads of talent but has failed to deliver on it since the Packers' run to Super Bowl XLV. See his touchdown run against the Minnesota Vikings at Lambeau Field for proof of his potential; then see the fact that he only played in six games all year as proof of his issues. He cannot stay on the field, and if that continues the Packers will be forced to cut ties with him.
Harris is the trendy newcomer who's at the forefront of everyone's minds lately due to his production late in the season. His 4.6 yards per carry led Packers running backs this year during the regular season, but he didn't see a substantial workload. There are concerns about his size at 5'7' and just over 200 pounds, but my bigger worry would be his actual skill set. He was picked up off the street midway through the season and though some may be tempted to compare him to Ray Rice because of their comparable frames, there's really no further basis for that comparison. Personally, I like Harris and I think that he can be a great change of pace back, but to assume that he would hold up after 250-300 carries in a season seems like an awfully large leap of faith.
Oh, and Ryan Grant is technically on the roster as well, but does anyone really think that Grant will suit up for the Packers in 2013? I didn't think so.
The question then becomes, which of these players will open the season as the starting tailback? For that matter, could the Packers either sign another free agent or draft a running back to take over the load? Personally, I'd love to see Montee Ball in Green and Gold, but is it reasonable to think that Ted Thompson would buck his trend of not drafting running backs in the early rounds of the draft? Please vote below, and explain your opinion in the comments.