Don’t worry – you didn’t misread the title.
This week’s Wednesday special is going to be all about the running backs. No injury reports. No mention of Mason Crosby winning NFC Special Teams Player of the Week (outside of that one, of course). Nothing but running backs.
And, really, why not? The position is the focus of conversation involving the Green Bay Packers right now as they prepare for Sunday’s home opener with the Buffalo Bills. There are multiple layers to this and we’re going to attempt to get to them now.
Let’s first talk about the situation, as it currently stands. While the Packers moved extremely quickly in signing Dimitri Nance off Atlanta’s practice squad Tuesday, it’s highly unlikely Nance plays Sunday. He’ll need at least a little time to learn everything and five days is simply not enough. That means the duo of Brandon Jackson and John Kuhn will once again handle the position against Buffalo. That shouldn’t be a problem this week.
Still, I can’t see a scenario in which Nance is strictly a “warm body”, at least for the time being. Otherwise, the Packers would have simply kept that roster spot open for Ryan Grant, who could have been ready to return from his injury before the end of the regular season. Plus, Green Bay moved so fast on him, you have to think it’d been targeting him for awhile now. And with only one true running back – Jackson – Nance will see game time sooner rather than later (I know we all love Kuhn, but give me a break – there’s no way he’ll be the No. 2 back much longer). How Nance performs in whatever time he gets will determine a lot going forward.
I say that because, after the Miami game on Oct. 17, James Starks is eligible to return from the PUP list. His hamstring injury never seemed to improve much during camp, but the team must have received a good prognosis or else it would have placed Starks on injured reserve. If Nance is playing well enough, the Packers can slowly work Starks back into the flow of things. That’s extremely important. Remember, Starks saw no real action in camp and hasn’t played a down of meaningful football since the end of his junior year at Buffalo (missed all of 2009 with a shoulder injury). Expecting him to be ready to roll right away is asking an awful lot of the youngster.
If Nance pans out decently and Starks can regain his footing soon enough, could I envision a scenario in which the team goes with Jackson, Nance and Starks as its three backs the rest of the way? Yes, I could. As Gene brilliantly pointed out Tuesday, the Packers are simply not that concerned with running the ball, no matter how much they say they are.
But perhaps the more important question is: Is that the right call to make? That’s really the most important question. Jackson’s never been a featured back in the pros and has had some durability issues. Nance is a complete unknown. Starks is, well, see above.
As good as the passing game is and as weak as the early season schedile appears to be, the fact is the schedule gets really tough really quick. And, at some point, Aaron Rodgers is going to have a bad game or two. In those spots, you’d like to have a little more than Jackson/Nance/Starks to lean on.
You’d like to have Marshawn Lynch.
Since the moment we found out Grant was done for the year, Lynch’s name has been thrown around a lot as a possible trade target for Green Bay. Wednesday, rumors were running rampant on the ‘net that a potential Lynch-for-A.J. Hawk swap was in the works (still not sure were that rumor exactly came from, but I digress). Hawk’s agent, Mike McCartney (no I’m not making that name up) said that Hawk would be open to a trade and there are reports that Hawk has put his house in Green Bay on the market.
Still, that seems unlikely to me. While Hawk did not play a single defensive snap against the Eagles, he plays an important role as a run stopper in the base scheme. And he’s a Ted Thompson guy. We all know how much Teddy hates to part with one of his own.
But trading a draft pick for Lynch? Ah – now you’re talking.
The Bills are dying to rid themselves of Lynch, a former Pro Bowler who is now, essentially, the team’s No. 3 back. It wouldn’t take much to get him (a third round pick, maybe, but a fourth seems more likely to me). Thompson has clearly been a longtime follower of Lynch, as well. It’s been long suggested that Green Bay panicked in taking Justin Harrell in the ‘07 draft because the player it really wanted – guess who? – went off the board. And there were rumors before this year’s draft that the Packers were kicking the tires on a potential Lynch trade.
And, before you go any further, please do not give me the “that’s not Teddy’s way of doing business” line. Actually, it is. Thompson has aggressively chased trades for both Randy Moss and Tony Gonzalez in his tenure, only to lose out at the last minute. He may hate free agency, but trades are a different story. And, by handing out big contracts/contract extensions to older players (Chad Clifton, Mark Tauscher, Ryan Pickett, Charles Woodson), Thompson is making it known he thinks this current group has a shot to win it all.
If that’s the case, why not tack on one more guy to further solidify things? Lynch has some character issues, but the Packers have enough leaders to keep him in line (plus he knows Rodgers and Desmond Bishop from their days at Cal). On the field, he’s an absolute beast, blessed with both power and speed and an ability to make plays in the passing game, a potentially nice thing to have on those crappy weather days late in the season.
Any move for Lynch isn’t likely to happen right away. The Packers will take their shot with their current group of backs first. In the end, though, I just can’t shake this feeling that the move makes too much sense not to happen.
Lynch rolls into town Sunday. In a perfect world, it’s not long before he heads back.