Position Battles Part One: Running Back Dilemma

james starks

What are the chances James Starks makes the roster this year?

Every year every team goes through some serious transitions at a handful of positions, and the 2013 iteration of the Green Bay Packers will be no different. Due to various contract situations, draft pedigrees, and past performances, the Packers have a number of decisions to make at running back, wide receiver, and outside linebacker, to name a few. Between now and the start of training camp, we’ll take a look at some of these situations and try to handicap what’s going to happen.

The first and most logical place to start is running back. For years, writers, analysts, bloggers, and fans have been pleading for the Packers to invest in a running game, and this year, they’ve finally done it, spending two draft picks on running backs in this spring’s draft. But the story doesn’t end there: Green Bay has several backs on the roster with significant experience and/or a draft pedigree that will make them difficult to cut. We’ll take a look at those backs in order based on how likely they are to make the roster.

The Locks – Eddie Lacy, Johnathan Franklin

Lacy and Franklin (which I am claiming here, on May 13, to have jointly nicknamed as “The Lawfirm” (note: I secretly hope Johnathan Franklin is the starter, because “Franklin and Lacy” sounds a little better than “Lacy and Franklin”)) are locks to make the 2013 roster for two reasons: their draft status and the allure of their “potential.” NFL teams simply do not cut their second round picks unless they are abject failures, and even then they’d think long and hard about it. Eddie Lacy, therefore, is probably completely safe. The same goes for Franklin, whose status as a fourth round pick puts him in very good standing in the Green Bay Packers’ organization.

What’s more, we have yet to see both of them on an NFL field, so everything we (including, for the most part, the coaches) is based on conjecture and what we perceive to be their potential. Since neither of them have yet had the opportunity to show whether what we think of them is accurate or not, they’ll likely get the benefit of the doubt when it comes to making the roster.

The Good Bet – DuJuan Harris

Harris benefits from being the best answer to the question “what have you done for me lately?” Out of all the running backs on the roster right now, he is the only one who has performed at anything resembling a successful level in the NFL, gaining 157 yards on 34 carries in the regular season and another 100 yards on 28 carries in the postseason. Those are hardly groundbreaking numbers, but he was the one the coaches turned to in the playoffs, not Alex Green and not James Starks.

The Slightly Less Good Bet – Alex Green

Alex Green benefits from once being a third round pick. Alex Green is hurt by the fact that he was a third round pick three years ago. He is also hurt by the fact that he hasn’t been productive when he’s been healthy, and he hasn’t been that healthy that often. Other than that, you know, he’s doing pretty well. In all seriousness, Green’s most redeeming quality at this point might be that he’s a former high draft pick, because he hasn’t produced when called upon.

The “We Like Him…When He’s Healthy” Guy – James Starks

Everything Starks has done so far in the NFL has seemingly been followed by an elipsis and a harsh qualifying statement. He was drafted despite missing a significant amount of time in college…and then he couldn’t get on the field because he didn’t put enough effort into recovering from injuries suffered early in training camp. He was a significant cog in the Packers’ 2010 Super Bowl run…and then he couldn’t unseat Ryan Grant to become the full-time starting running back. He earned the right to be the number one guy in training camp last year…and then he had so many injuries there was some question as to whether he’d make it out of training camp on the roster. He ran for more than 60 yards in three out of four games in November and early December last season…and then he got injured (again!) and never saw the field the rest of the season.

The thing is, Starks might be the most physically gifted running back the Packers have had since Ahman Green was in his prime, and he’s used that reputation to stay on the team despite never really staying on the field. But now he’s 27, and the clock might be running out.

The Mystery – Angelo Pease

Quick, go to YouTube and find all the Angelo Pease highlights you can. Go on, go. I’ll wait.

(waiting…waiting…waiting…)

Okay, you’re no doubt back by now. I’m betting you didn’t find anything, really, other than this:

And that’s really hardly a highlight. But a lack of highlights aside, Pease has at least two things going for him. First, at 5’11” and 211 pounds, he’s built like a small truck. Think of Pease as a Chevy S-10 to Eddie Lacy’s Ford F-250. Or Cadillac Escalade. Or the other large truck of your choice. Whatever the case, Pease has a solid build and seems to have the athleticism to at least get noticed at an NFL level.

Secondly, Angelo Pease has the most important thing an NFL player can have: the support of the head coach. Yeah, it’s only a rookie minicamp. Yeah, it was one practice. But when Mike McCarthy emotes like that, it’s significant, and for that reason alone, Pease will be worth watching this summer.

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