24

July

Ten Packers Training Camp Topics: #1 — The Main Event

The Packers spent two draft picks on running backs, but could DuJuan Harris steal the starting job?

The Packers spent two draft picks on running backs, but could DuJuan Harris steal the starting job?

Quick. Think of a more anticipated Packers training-camp battle in recent years than this summer’s competition at running back. Good luck.

In 2012, the running back position saw a great deal of turnover. Desperate for a true feature back, the Packers opted to sign veteran Cedric Benson during the preseason. But Benson went down with a Lisfranc injury, opening the door for 2011 third-round pick Alex Green.

When Green failed to take full advantage of his opportunity, James Starks got a chance to prove his worth. Outside of a few nice runs, Starks was pretty average in his six regular-season appearances.

But late in the season, the team got a massive boost from journeyman DuJuan Harris. Just months after selling used cars in Florida, Harris was the feature back for the No. 3 seed in the NFC Playoffs.

In six games with the Packers between the regular season and the playoffs, Harris carried the ball 62 times for 257 yards, an average of 4.1 yards per carry. While not spectacular, that’s a sizable upgrade over Benson’s average of 3.5, Green’s 3.4 and Starks’s 3.6.

Harris also scored four touchdowns in those six games.

This will be his first offseason with the Packers, and he’ll face the stiffest competition at the position in recent memory. Leading up to this year’s draft, Eddie Lacy was considered by most to be the best running back available, possibly cracking the first round and Johnathan Franklin was thought to be a surefire second rounder before falling to the Packers in the fourth round.

The rookies have yet to show what they can do in full pads, but there’s certainly reason to be excited about both. Lacy provides the Packers with their most physical running back in some time, and Franklin appears to be a natural fit within the Packers’ fast-paced, spread offense.

Franklin joined us last month at Packers Talk Radio Network for an interview.

Prior to the draft, I considered Franklin to be the second-best running back in the draft, behind Giovani Bernard and just ahead of Lacy. Ultimately, teams were scared off by Franklin’s small frame and ball-security issues which were on display through his first three years at UCLA. But fresh off his senior season in which he racked up over 2,000 total yards, Franklin expected to hear his name called much earlier than he actually did.

22

July

Ten Packers Training Camp Topics: #3 — Kuhn a camp casualty?

John Kuhn is a fan favorite. But is the fullback in danger of being a camp casualty this summer?

John Kuhn is a fan favorite. But is the fullback in danger of being a camp casualty this summer?

Within the confines of Lambeau Field, Packers fans adore fullback-turned-folk hero John Kuhn. He’s big and strong, runs hard, and by all accounts, is the ultimate team player.

But despite the wishes of a large portion of the fan base, Kuhn may not be a guarantee to make the team this season.

Recently, ALLGBP writer Adam Czech mentioned Kuhn in his “What If” Roster Scenarios piece. Adam asked the question, “What if a RB/FB emerges as a really good pass blocker?”

The question is absolutely valid. The Packers went out and spent a second-round pick on Alabama bruiser Eddie Lacy in April’s NFL Draft, which should help cure their short-yardage woes and add a physical dimension to the running game. In recent years, Kuhn handled the majority of the workload in short-yardage situations, but with Lacy in the fold, that may no longer be the case.

Still, Kuhn is likely the team’s most reliable pass protector in the backfield. And unless another running back or fullback proves to be, as Adam puts it, a “really good pass blocker,” then Kuhn may be looking for work.

Here’s what Adam says about Kuhn: “Due to make $1.6 million this season — (Kuhn) might be out of a job. Besides being the only reliable blocking back, what else does Kuhn bring to the team besides a recognizable fan chant whenever he touches the ball? He’s not a reliable option for picking up short-yardage first downs. He’s not a run blocker. He’s got decent hands, but it’s not like his receiving would be sorely missed. I know he’s tight with the quarterback, and cutting a reliable pass-blocking back in this offense would be risky, even if another back emerges as a blocker in preseason. But it wouldn’t surprise me to see Kuhn gone if Mike McCarthy is confident in having someone else out there on third downs to protect Aaron Rodgers.”

Adam is absolutely right. Kuhn brings a couple things to the table: he’s a good pass blocker and an above-average receiver. But on the other hand, he’s far from a guarantee to pick up a third or fourth-and-short and he’s by no means a dominant run blocker. Given the downward spiral of the fullback position in the NFL, Kuhn’s spot on the roster will likely come down to what everyone else does, as Adam suggests.

15

June

Johnathan Franklin: Playing in Green Bay a “blessing”

Packers RB Johnathan Franklin

Packers RB Johnathan Franklin

The Green Bay Packers’ rookie class has yet to practice in full pads, but less than two months removed from the 2013 NFL Draft, fourth-round pick Johnathan Franklin already seems poised to have a long, successful career.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist, a brain surgeon or the mayor of Los Angeles to figure out whether or not a guy “gets it.” And get it, Franklin does.

Growing up in south-central Los Angeles, ten of Franklin’s close acquaintances were shot in killed during his childhood, according to JSOnline.com. But Franklin beat the odds and went on to have a successful four-year run at UCLA.

After racking up over 2,000 total yards as a senior in 2012, Franklin expected to hear his name called early on draft day. But as the picks kept coming, Franklin kept waiting.

“It was a humbling experience for me,” Franklin said June 13 in an interview with Packers Talk Radio Network. “I was hearing probably late first round, early second round or perhaps third at the latest. On (Day 2) I had my family over, I had cameras there and I didn’t get drafted.”

Franklin’s draft-day fall wasn’t quite as dramatic as Aaron Rodgers’ in 2005; Rodgers was the last player in the green room after being mentioned as possible No. 1 overall pick, whereas Franklin watched the draft from L.A. But nonetheless, few foresaw Franklin dropping to the fourth round.

On Day 3 of the draft, NFL Network’s Mike Mayock spoke highly of Franklin, citing UCLA head coach Jim Mora’s high opinion of his former standout running back.

“For coaches, some (players) kind of hit your heart as well as your mind,” Mayock said. “And I could tell with Coach Mora, this was one of those kids that really resonated with him. I could tell him all day long, (Franklin) was going to go in the fourth or fifth round, and he was going to pound the table and say, ‘He’s better than that.’ Because he felt it.”

Still, Franklin feels fortunate to have landed where he did.

“Sometimes, God puts us in certain situations where we have to let go and just let him be in control,” Franklin said. “It was definitely a blessing. I ended up in a great place.”

12

June

Packers Johnathan Franklin: Road to Green Bay, Page One Video

Selected by the Packers in the fourth round of last April’s draft, UCLA running back Johnathan Franklin is the subject of a UCLA video series that will document his transition from college player to professional athlete with the Green Bay Packers. Below is the first installment, Page One.

Franklin also happens to be our special guest on this week’s All Packers Talk Live show. Tune in Thursday night, 8:30PM Central, to hear Jason, Marques and Kris break down the latest Packers news and speak with Johnathan on a variety of topics.

 

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Jersey Al Bracco is the founder and editor of AllGreenBayPackers.com, and the co-founder of Packers Talk Radio Network. He can be heard as one of the Co-Hosts on Cheesehead Radio and is the Green Bay Packers Draft Analyst for Drafttek.com.

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13

May

McCarthy Closely Monitoring Rookie Running Backs

Undrafted rookie running back Angelo Pease

Undrafted rookie running back Angelo Pease

It’s only been a few days and already the rookies are making an impression on Green Bay Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy.  That’s what players are supposed to do and especially guys who are anything but guaranteed a roster spot.  That, alone, isn’t earth-shattering news.

But as we have seen before, this team has had success finding some gems in the undrafted free agent pool.  One such player is running back Angelo Pease.  During the first day of drills, McCarthy was so caught off guard by one of Pease’s runs that he thought he was watching second round draft pick Eddie Lacy.  It’s pretty safe to say that Lacy is a lock to stick on this year’s roster.  For Pease, who rarely saw the field for a very good Kansas State team last season, that comparison is a good early sign.

Here is what McCarthy had to say after practice:

“That’s a big time cut. Frankly, I thought it was Eddie Lacy, the way he dropped his weight and hit the hole,” McCarthy gushed. “Those are things we’re looking for.”

Now again, it’s only one moment and one practice.  There is a long way to go, but if he’s worth a mention in a post-practice recap, we may want to keep an eye on him.

Pease has said that he is used to competing and having to constantly prove himself.  He plans to fight hard for a spot on this year’s team and is fully aware of the uphill battle that awaits him.  Besides Lacy, there is Johnathan Franklin who is also expected to figure into the team’s immediate plans in the backfield.

And, oh yeah, there are the backs who are currently on the roster in that of Alex Green, James Starks and John Kuhn.  Starks will likely face a long and hard road back on the team in 2013 due to constant health issues and inconsistency.  Green would figure to stick, given that he was a third round pick back in 2011.  But with the level of competition that he can now expect to see, it would seem that nothing is guaranteed for him.  Kuhn is another who could become a question mark before all is said and done.

8

May

DuJuan Harris Once Again a Forgotten Man.

Packers RB DuJuan Harris will surely be back with the Pack in 2013.

Packers RB DuJuan Harris – Forgotten Man?

It was only a month before the NFL draft that Mike McCarthy was singing the praises of DuJuan Harris:

“Oh he’s going to play for us next season. That’s his responsibility if he wants to be the starter…  Once he got ready, I felt great about the way DuJuan finished the season. Looking forward to having him for an offseason and look for good things for him.”

March was a good month for Harris. You couldn’t go two clicks of the mouse without finding a feature on Harris. JSOnline did a feature piece on him and what he was doing to prepare this offseason. Our own Adam Czech posed the question, “Real Deal or Flavor of the Month?”

And then the draft happened.

The Packers added not one, but two dynamic running backs in the first four rounds of the draft. Before a down has been played, Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin are already being described as the “Thunder and Lightning” tandem the Packers haven’t seen since Hornung and Taylor.

Rob Reischel of JSOnline.com wrote a fine piece the other day titled, “There’s a Storm Brewing in Packers Backfield.” It was a well-written and informative piece, but I had one problem with it; there wasn’t even a mention of DuJuan Harris. He’s suddenly the Rodney Dangerfield of the Packers’ backfield.

You have to feel for DuJuan Harris. If you’re reading articles here, you surely know his story. Undrafted free agent, cut by the Jaguars, cut by the Steelers, gets a job selling cars, seemingly forgotten by the NFL. Then Ted Thompson calls. He lands on the Packers’ practice squad and about five weeks later is signed to their roster and was a surprise contributor in December and January.

I was a big fan of Harris’ running style; a quick-hitting no-nonsense runner; something the Packers haven’t had in a while. I can’t say I was confident he was the “real deal” three-down running back Mike McCarthy has professed his desire for, but at the same time, I was excited to see how he develops next season.

Well now what? Does he even get a fair shot?

1

May

Reminder: Don’t sleep on Johnathan Franklin

Packers RB Johnathan Franklin

Packers RB Johnathan Franklin

Much has been made over the Packers’ running game in recent years, and this year’s draft class proves that upgrading the ground game is a top priority headed into 2013.

No, the Packers may not have landed the No. 1 running back in the draft — last Giovani Bernard mention — but they may have gotten Nos. 2 and 3.

Bernard was the first back off the board, going to the Cincinnati Bengals with the 37th pick. Former Michigan State power back Le’Veon Bell went to the Steelers at No. 48, and the Denver Broncos drafted Montee Ball ten picks later.

Prior to the draft, Eddie Lacy was expected by most to be the first back off the board. NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock had Lacy as the 18th-best player in the draft.

But then draft day happened, and the Packers grabbed him with the second-to-last pick in round two.

As Bob McGinn put it, the Packers almost reluctantly turn in the card for the former Alabama standout when he was still on the board at No. 61. Most draft analysts loved the pick. Everyone (Mayock, Mel Kiper, Todd McShay, Matt Miller) had Lacy as the top running back in the draft, and the Packers — a team that lacked a running game — stole him with a late second-rond pick.

With a potential three-down back (Lacy) already in the fold, the Packers focused on the offensive line. After selecting linemen David Bakhtiari and J.C. Tretter early on Day 3, Thompson made a trade for a third fourth-round pick. They had their running back in Lacy, but Franklin was still sitting on the board.

“I’ve watched Ted Thompson enough times in the draft room that when he goes up, it’s going up for something and it’s really good and that was definitely the case,” head coach Mike McCarthy said in a post-draft press conference. “Very dynamic player, I’m excited to work with him.”

It probably means nothing, but whereas the Packers moved down and took Lacy, they felt strongly enough about Franklin to trade up for him in the fourth round.

Both players should see carries next season along with DuJuan Harris. Which isn’t bad for a team that relied almost solely on Harris as its starting running back into last year’s playoffs. It’s pretty safe to say the days of almost-desperate Ryan Grant signings are over.