GREEN BAY – The reliability of John Kuhn as an emergency halfback and stopgap player in case of injury is making it increasingly likely that the Green Bay Packers will keep only two true halfbacks on their 53-man roster, at least to begin the season.
Ryan Grant and Brandon Jackson are locks to make the team coming out of training camp. Beyond them, the rest of the stable of running backs have been unreliable and unavailable.
"We would rather not have the injuries, but again, it’s like another couple of positions where it is just the way it has worked out," said general manager Ted Thompson today.
The Packers have been without the services of Kregg Lumpkin since last week Monday after he suffered a pulled hamstring in the preseason opener against the Cleveland Browns. He sat out the second preseason game against Seattle Seahawks and has continued to be sidelined.
Undrafted rookie Quinn Porter hurt his ankle in the Seattle game and has not practiced this week. Head coach Mike McCarthy, however, classified him as day-to-day meaning he has a chance to play this Thursday against the Indianapolis Colts.
More troubling than any lingering ankle issue for Porter, though, may be the immaturity he displayed in the Cleveland game when he mimicked some sort of spoon-feeding motion with his hands after carrying the football. He also appears to have fallen out of favor as a punt and kick return specialist.
Perhaps the biggest frustration has been the health of sixth-round draft choice James Starks who has been on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list since the beginning of training camp.
"It’s been a disappointment that James hasn’t been able to go the whole time," said Thompson. "We were certainly counting on him to be able to take some of those reps, but that is just the way it has worked out."
According to head coach Mike McCarthy, Starks had been making progress until a recent setback.
"He was improving at the beginning of the week," said McCarthy. "Yesterday was not one of his better days in the rehab, so we’re still up and down there. He will not play this week."
But with none of the other halfbacks apart from Grant and Jackson striking an overwhelming claim to a roster spot, Starks could still be a factor down the road as long as Kuhn can fulfill the No. 3 halfback role in the meantime.
If Starks begins the regular season on the PUP list, he must sit out first six weeks of the season. At that time, the Packers must make a decision whether to activate him to the 53-man roster or place him on season-ending injured reserve.
The Packers have been considered a primarily a passing team under McCarthy and dating back to the beginning of the Brett Favre era, so depth at running back would conceivably be lesser priority than receiving options, for example.
And ever since Grant assumed the starting role, he's been extremely durable. Seeing as Grant has carried the ball over 280 times each of the past two seasons, the Packers have shown a hesitancy to let anyone else be a primary ball carrier.
Should Green Bay decide to go with only two halfbacks, it wouldn't necessarily spell the end for a player like Porter. They'd almost assuredly like to have an insurance policy on the practice squad in case of an injury.
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