Seeing as you made the suggestion yourself, Coach McCarthy, we obliged.
When asked about the Packers run game during a Tuesday press conference, Green Bay head coach Mike McCarthy responded, “We’ll be better, I can promise you that. You can write that down, big letters.”
With McCarthy at the helm and Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, the Packers have had an explosive offensive for several consecutive seasons, but the ground game has always been a weak point.
While Ryan Grant had back-to-back 1,200-yard rushing seasons in 2008 and 2009, the Packers still haven’t had a legitimate game-changing running back since the days of Ahman Green, the heyday of which occurred back during the Mike Sherman era.
The issue of having a reliable running game was no more apparent than during the playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers when the Packers had four possessions result in punts, three drives end with fewer than 10 yards gained and Green Bay generally couldn’t keep pace with San Francisco offensive barrage.
By contrast, the Niners gained 579 total net yards, 329 on the ground, largely from the one-two punch of quarterback Colin Kaepernick and Frank Gore.
It took until April, three months later, but the Packers finally made their counter punch. By taking two running backs in first four rounds, it became clear the Packers weren’t just paying lip service to the run game any more. They got serious.
For the moment being, it’s difficult to envision exactly who will be the starter at the position and what the rotation will look like. Even McCarthy doesn’t have an answer for that.
“Expectations for the run game, I don’t have a number for you,” said McCarthy. “To me, that will sort itself out in training camp. These workouts are great, the teaching, educational part of developing your football team. But you have to get in pads. We need to go and find out what’s real and what’s perception.”
McCarthy is of the opinion that the offseason program for his players, including Organized Team Activities that wrap up this week in Green Bay, is for learning and working on fundamentals. The real test will come in late July with the start of training camp.
That’s when second-round draft choice Eddie Lacy and fourth-rounder Johnathan Franklin will prove their mettle.
During the offseason program, the veterans on the team––James Starks and Alex Green––received an abundance of playing time with the first-string offense. But you can rest assured that the Packers didn’t select Lacy and Franklin with the intention of riding the pine, at least not both of them.
Based upon their running styles in college, Lacy is a power back with one-cut explosiveness while Franklin displays more quickness, elusiveness and shiftiness.
Lacy told Cheesehead TV in an interview in May that he thinks he can gain 1,000 yards in his first season in professional football, but such proclamations are easy to make at this time of year.
The rookies will join a deep position that also includes last season’s late-season hero DuJuan Harris who brought some juice to the running game the last month or so of the year.
Harris will first have to prove he’s recovered from recent surgical operation in which a cyst was removed from his right lung, but based upon his play in 2012, he’s a good bet to hold at least a part-time role in 2013.
The dedication to the run game goes beyond just the running backs.
Rodgers took it upon himself during a Tuesday interview to mention the difference newly-signed free agent tight end Matthew Mulligan will make in the run game.
“Some other positions, pads makes a big difference,” said Rodgers. “If you look at our big tight end that we brought in, I think him in pads, he’s going to be a force outside blocking.”
Even while some changes on the offensive line appear to have been made more in response to pass protection issues, having Bryan Bulaga and Josh Sitton on the left side should aid in getting a more balanced attack to that side of the offense.
During the offseason part of the year, it’s difficult to assess the offense as whole. Each position on the football field––such as the running backs, tight ends and offensive line––are focused on improving as a unit.
Not until training camp can an offense start to be seen as a sum of its parts. That’s when it will be seen if dividends have truly paid off.
Brian Carriveau is the author of “It’s Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America,” and editor of Cheesehead TV’s “Pro Football Draft Preview.” To contact Brian, email firstname.lastname@example.org.