August 1, 2012

Packers Training Camp Storylines to Follow (1 of 5) – Running Backs

Coming off an impressive yet disappointing 15-1 season, the Green Bay Packers have high expectations and a roster in pristine condition for deep playoff run. And with training camp in full force, a number of interesting developments have surfaced that may be early indicators of how the 2012-13 Packers will perform. Below is the first of five posts, which will examine these key storylines and point out specific details to track throughout camp. Today’s topic is running backs.  

Will the real James Starks please stand up?
Now that Ryan Grant is out of the fold, Green Bay’s clear number one back is James Starks. But, as we know Starks was nagged by injuries throughout most of last season and never established the consistency the coaching staff or fans expected out of him. Training camp figures to be a good barometer of a few key factors that may hint at whether Starks is poised for a breakout year or for inconsistency:
·         Physique: What kind of shape is Starks in compared to last year? Did he hit the weight room and/or take care of his body enough to stay healthy during camp and throughout the year? RBs have such a short shelf life in the NFL, so it’s important that he comes to camp in shape, and that he’s not just using camp to get in shape.
·         His demeanor: It may seem trivial, but mental state and sense of role on the team is vital for a player like Starks. Not only is he young and fairly inexperienced, but he’s on a contending team and in a position that requires him to take a modest role in a high powered offense. Watch for his comments to the media, specifically any goals he mentions, what he’s done to improve himself and generally his attitude in interviews.

Backup plan?
Alex Green is recovering from an ACL tear. Brandon Saine is a fairly unknown entity, with much to prove. And well, numbers three and four on the depth chart – are completely unknowns. The worry here is the youth and inexperience of this group. Not to mention, Starks doesn’t exactly seem like a natural born leader.

So who of this group rises to the occasion and separates himself as the third down back? The best blocker of the group will probably earn the spot. It’s no secret the Packers throw a lot and on third down especially – so having a great blocking back is necessary. If Starks is taking the majority of the carries on early downs, the coaching staff will be wise to rest him…but that will require faith in the number two back.

Game plan and role of the back
While the RB in the Packers’ offense may not be getting 15-20 carries/touches a game, the position still is still a key piece to the offense. It’s almost a bonus position for Green Bay, because the threat of big plays on the ground help balance the offense and most importantly, protect Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers’ elusiveness makes up for the predictability of the passing game, but I’m sure Rodgers would be receptive to a cleaner pocket at times. A running game would help that.

Lastly, the Packers need to develop the ability to pound the ball 1-2 yards against a defense that knows it’s coming. Third-and-one and fourth-and-one downs should not be shotgun formations EVERY time; the offensiveline needs to belly up and win the battle in the trenches. It’s been a long time since the Packers could do that consistently.

What kind of year will Starks have? Any thoughts on the role of RB in the Packers offense? Chime in with your comments!


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