|With starter Cedric Benson on IR, Packers RB Alex Green will get his chance to shoulder the running load. (US Presswire)|
On Thursday, Green participated in his first padded practice as Green Bay's No. 1 back, taking reps with QB Aaron Rodgers and the first-team offensive line. The second-year back from Hawaii, who played in four games last year before blowing out his knee, has 15 career rushes, 10 of which came last week when Benson went down.
Drafted in the third round last year, Green has shown promise. But the knee injury cut his rookie season short just when it was starting to get going. Throughout training camp and the first month of the regular season, chances to prove himself on the field have been few and far between. Until now.
“The opportunity has presented itself,” Green said. “I have to do my job as a teammate and step up to the plate and help my team win.”
Green's shot comes at the expense of Benson, the veteran signed off the street in training camp who seized the starting job and was productive through four games. Benson suffered a sprained left foot against the Colts, and McCarthy said Benson had been placed on the new injured reserve with designation list. That allows him to return in a minimum of eight weeks, and he's eligible to start practicing in six.
“I have no time for competition. We're going to take the hot hand,” McCarthy said.
On Sunday at Houston, Green will get his chance in the Packers backfield.
“The first carry will be Alex Green,” McCarthy said. “He's a little farther ahead than James is right now and that's the way we'll go. But we have three halfbacks and we'll utilize all three of them.”
McCarthy added that “Alex and James both got reps today (with the starters), and so did Brandon Saine.”
What Benson brought to the offense wasn't dazzling speed or breakaway ability. He brought balance to a pass-heavy offense that hasn't yet found its rhythm.
But Rodgers doesn't see the run game going away, even without Benson.
“Obviously, with Ced in there, we wanted to give him some opportunities – 15 to 20 rushes, bare minimum,” Rodgers said. “I think it makes the backfield more of a running-back-by-committee with Alex and James and Brandon, but we're still going to try to have balance – probably more than we have in the past.”
Given the most extended playing time of his career last week, Green was up-and-down. His first eight carries went for just 14 yards. But in the fourth quarter, he ripped off a 41-yard run, showing burst, vision and elusiveness.
Against the Texans' ninth-ranked rushing defense, Green will have a stiff first test.
“It's definitely an exciting opportunity for me,” he said. “It's not always good when somebody else gets hurt, but the opportunity presented itself and I understand that. (I'm) not really nervous. I just feel comfortable, coming in with the offense. Come in here, try to get a win and get this thing going.
Though it's been more than 11 months since he tore his ACL in Week 7 last year, Green still isn't 100 percent healthy. He was put on what McCarthy called a “pitch count” in camp and used sparingly the first month of the season, getting just two carries. But he says he's ready.
“I feel good. I feel confident,” Green said. “That's the most important thing about being a running back is confidence.”
Though the Packers don't often keep a halfback in on third-down passing situations – mostly using FB John Kuhn or an empty backfield – they may look to use Green that way. He's got a big body (6-feet, 225 pounds) for blocking and good hands. Playing in a spread offense at Hawaii, Green caught 27 passes for 363 yards and a touchdown in 2010.
The Packers are back to the three RBs they initially had entering training camp. But McCarthy said he was optimistic Benson could make it back for the final four weeks of the season.
“A foot sprain is definitely a tough injury to come back from, but within that time frame we feel that he definitely has a chance,” McCarthy said. “His history would tell you that he is going to come back and just with my time being around him, he's a true pro. He's been excellent. He spends a lot of time in the weight room. I could see him being one of those guys that comes back and plays the last four weeks of the season."
Rodgers lamented the loss of Benson, an eight-year veteran who commanded respect on and off the field.
“It's tough,” Rodgers said. “Ced's been great for us. He's been a leader, he's had a great attitude, he's been a great example for those young guys about what a professional looks like.
“With him on the shelf for a while, James Starks hops back in the mix, Alex Green ran the ball well when he had opportunities, and Brandon Saine has a lot of fans in the locker room and everybody's excited about him and his opportunity. Those three guys will get some chances and we expect them to play well.”