DALLAS – The Green Bay Packers received plenty of grief in 2009 when they kept three fullbacks coming out of training camp. At a time that the fullback position was becoming extinct across the NFL, the Packers went against the grain.
They had two, solid, dependable veterans in John Kuhn and Korey Hall – two guys that not only fill a role on offense but contribute on special teams as well.
When the 2009 draft rolled around, the Packers felt they couldn't pass on Quinn Johnson even with Kuhn and Hall already on the roster. And then at the conclusion of training camp, they felt that they couldn't cut him either – sticking to the philosophy of keeping the 53 best players on the team regardless of position.
Many observers thought the Packers couldn't repeat the same practice in 2010. There's no way they could keep three fullbacks for two consecutive seasons, they thought.
Even former Green Bay Packers player and coach and current radio broadcaster Harry Sydney, himself a former fullback, thought the Packers shouldn't keep three fullbacks.
"If they do, they need to get kicked in the butt," said Sydney before the season. "They don't run enough. They don't run enough to keep three fullbacks."
The Packers still don't run all that much, at least compared to other teams in the NFL. But that hasn't stopped them from keeping three fullbacks.
Add B.J. Raji to the mix, and the Packers essentially have used four fullbacks at one time or another.
"It might be a little bit unprecedented, but at the same time, it's all about winning football games," said Kuhn. "And I know that people have given the Packers grief for keeping three fullbacks last year and this year, but it's all about winning football games. We've done a pretty good job at that, and I don't see any reason why we need to change."
Raji has been on the field for all of two offensive snaps all season long, although the Packers have been very successful whenever they've utilized him in that role.
The first time came in the second quarter of the divisional round win over the Atlanta Falcons when Raji helped clear a hole for John Kuhn to score a 1-yard touchdown run.
Then in the NFC Championship victory over the Bears, Raji was on the field for the Packers' first touchdown of the game, a play-action bootleg for which Raji was used as a decoy on Aaron Rodgers' 1-yard touchdown run.
Two plays, two touchdowns. Despite his accomplishment, Raji modestly downplayed his role on offense.
"My role is different than a lot of the normal fullbacks," said Raji. "I'm only mostly coming in when it's goal-line situations. I wouldn't give myself the title of fullback just yet. I had a few plays, and it's been fun and real exciting."
Raji's stellar play – that has gotten him the nickname, "The Freezer" for his similarity to former Chicago Bear William "The Refrigerator" Perry – earned him praise from running backs coach Edgar Bennett.
"Talented man, big guy," said Bennett. "He certainly has some athleticism with his feet. Has great movement, and he plays fundamentally sound, he plays with leverage. He's a powerful guy."
Whether Green Bay uses Raji on offense during the Super Bowl against the Steelers remains to be seen.
But even if they don't, at least the Packers' three fullback – and even four fullback – philosophy has quieted the critics.
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