Our Training Camp preview of the Green Bay Packers continues on today, as we shift our focus from the quarterback position to the running backs. This season has been an awfully eventful (and attention-filled) one for the Packers’ incumbent starter, who has dealt with media and fan examinations of his physical condition that border on the obsessive.
To Eddie Lacy’s credit, he has handled the discussion with class, never seeming to let it get to him as he works to improve his effectiveness as a runner for 2016. Meanwhile, his running mate returns for another go in Green Bay but will have to look to solve the fumbling issues that plagued him in 2015. If those two issues are sorted out this summer, Green Bay’s rushing attack should be in great hands this season.
Here’s a look at what to watch for out of each of the Packers’ running backs and fullbacks in training camp.
Eddie Lacy, #27
5’11”, 234(-ish) pounds
Not since the days of Gilbert Brown has one man’s weight been such a fascination for Packers fans as Eddie Lacy’s has been for the past 12 months. In short, he played too heavy last season and lost his agility, but showed up to OTAs in much better shape after an offseason spent with the founder of P90X. Packers fans will hope to see the Lacy of old on July 25th when the team reports for camp; if they do, there’s no reason to expect less than 1,100 yards on the ground and a return to his pre-2015 form.
James Starks, #44
6’2”, 218 pounds
After hitting free agency for a second time this offseason, Starks returned to Green Bay on a two-year deal to play the foil to Lacy. He got the biggest workload of his career in 2015 and although his yards-per-carry average was a modest 4.1, he contributed with a career-best season as a receiver. All told, he nearly hit 1,000 yards from scrimmage. The only major complaint about Starks was his fumbling issues - he coughed up the football five times, matching the number he had in his career coming in. Ball security should be a focus for him this offseason, as will continuing his effectiveness as a receiver.
John Crockett, #38
6’0”, 217 pounds
2nd season (no accrued season in 2015)
College: North Dakota State
Because Crockett was active for just two games in 2015 after spending most of the year on the practice squad, he did not qualify for an “accrued season” of experience. He will look to get that this season as he hopes to keep the job as the Packers’ third running back. Crockett’s college numbers still jump off the page, and he showed some decent burst in the preseason and on a few runs in his short regular-season action. He should be a threat to catch the ball out of the backfield as well, but will need to find a way to contribute on special teams this summer.
Don Jackson, #26
5’10”, 208 pounds
Jackson visited Green Bay leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, and the Packers quickly scooped him up as an undrafted free agent following the Draft’s final selection. Though he does not really qualify as a speedster nor a power back, Jackson will need to hope that his all-around game and athleticism shine through in training camp and that he can shine in extended preseason action, forcing the Packers to rethink their third-string plan.
Brandon Burks, #34
5’9”, 208 pounds
Like Jackson, Burks does not appear to have a single skill to focus on and therefore needs to contribute in all facets of the game. However, he showed a greater ability as a receiver out of the backfield than Jackson. If he can prove to be a better pass-blocker as well, that could give him an edge over his fellow undrafted rookie and could put him in the conversation with Crockett for the #3 job.
Aaron Ripkowski, #22
6’1”, 246 pounds
With John Kuhn still on the free agent market despite the Packers having two open spots on the 90-man roster, they are clearly giving Ripkowski every opportunity to demonstrate that he is ready to be the team’s fullback for 2016 and beyond. The big test for Rip will be in pass-blocking; he is already a capable run-blocker, so if he can master the protections he should not have to look over his shoulder for the veteran to swoop in.
Alstevis Squirewell, #40
6’0”, 265 pounds
A fullback-turned-defensive lineman-turned-fullback again, Squirewell has the best name on the team and has had one of the more fascinating career arcs of any undrafted rookie just because of his position shifts. He’s every bit the bowling ball he appears to be, but he is raw and would likely need seasoning on the practice squad before he is ready to contribute in a meaningful way.