|With a solid performance last Sunday in a win over the Texans, Alex Green has earned a stepped-up role as the Packers' lead running back for this week's game against the Rams. (US Presswire)|
“The last time I had 22 carries was in junior college," the second-year running back said, chuckling. "It was back in ‘08.”
Good memory. In that game, at Butte College, where QB Aaron Rodgers spent one season before transferring to California, Green ran the ball 27 times for 119 yards and was named the MVP of the 2008 National Championship Game against Mt. San Antonio.
Following that season, he transferred to Hawaii, a spread-offense program that didn't run the ball much.
“The most I had at Hawaii was 19,” Green said, leaving out the fact that those 19 carries generated 327 yards, breaking a 60-year-old school record.
In a very small sample size -- those college games and last week against the Texans -- Green has made a case for deserving a steady diet of 20 carries a game.
In Green Bay's 42-24 win at Houston, he rushed 22 times for 65 yards. His 3.0-yard average was far from spectacular, but the 7-, 8-, 9- and 10-yard gains he got kept the Texans honest and made them respect the Packers' run game. That, in turn, provided the balance Rodgers needed to pick apart Houston's secondary for 338 yards and six touchdowns.
After that steady rushing performance, coach Mike McCarthy said he was “very pleased” with Green.
“Alex Green will be our lead running back,” McCarthy said this week. “I see the game as we move forward reflecting the game we just played (against Houston).”
On Sunday at St. Louis, Green will get his second consecutive start -- and the second of his career. Described by teammates as a “downhill runner,” his ascent to the starting role has been decidedly more uphill.
After being drafted out of Hawaii in the third round in 2011, Green had a hard time getting on the field, much less getting a feature-back workload in the Packers' pass-heavy offense. Last season, he was just starting to carve out a role for himself when he tore his ACL in October. Green missed the rest of the Packers' 15-1 season, and through the offseason and minicamps, he rehabbed. In training camp and the preseason, he was put on a restrictive, team-mandated “snap count” as he strengthened his knee. And for the first four games of the 2012 regular season, he was an afterthought, carrying the ball just two times for two yards.
But in Week 5 at Indianapolis, veteran starter Cedric Benson went down with a foot injury. Green was, as goes the oft-repeated Packers mantra, the “next man up.” On his first carry, out of the shotgun in the second quarter, Green ran up the middle for nine yards to the Colts' 6-yard line, setting up a Rodgers touchdown pass on the next play.
Despite a 21-3 halftime lead, the Packers never really committed to the run in the second half, and Green couldn't get into a rushing rhythm. His next seven carries went for a combined five yards -- and Green Bay relinquished its lead.
But on his final carry, late in the fourth quarter, Green showed off the burst, vision and elusiveness -- the vast potential -- that made him a third-round pick. He blasted through the middle on first down, shook a couple of Colts defenders with nifty moves, and raced 41 yards for the Packers' longest run of the season.
Then, in last week's big victory at Houston, a potential turning-point triumph for an inconsistent Green Bay team that has yet to string two wins together, Green was a lynchpin. He said he enjoyed being a workhorse and, like Benson, who has helped him on the field and in the meeting room, Green felt like he got better as the game went along.
“The more carries you get, the more you're in the game, the more you can feel the defense out,” he said. “You can match the level of competition, and you can see how they're playing. It gives you a better feel for it. It's fun."
So how did the guy who hadn't carried 20-plus times in four years feel after his freight-train effort against the physical Texans?
“It felt good to relieve a little tension I've been holding in the past few months, rehabbing and waiting,” Green said.
Green was limited in practice this week and is listed on the injury report with shoulder pain, but he said it was just football soreness, and he's listed as probable for Sunday's game against the Rams, who have the league's 14th-ranked rushing defense.
“I was a little sore, but it felt great getting the win. That's the most important thing. My body, it'll take care of itself.”
This could be just the beginning for the talented Green (6-feet, 225 pounds). At 6-5, 225 pounds, he's a big back, but he has soft hands, which seems suited for the third-down role in the offense. So far, that job has belonged to FB John Kuhn, who is a better blocker. But Green said his ultimate goal is to be an every-down back.
“I do the best I can to be a complete running back -- running, blocking, catching,” he said. “Obviously, blocking is another part of it. I try to keep every aspect of my game just as crisp as possible.”
Whether he becomes an every-down back remains to be seen, but Rodgers is expecting good things from him as the season moves along.
“(He) has got a good running style, (and) he gets extra yards after contact," Rodgers said. "I think he ran the ball well enough to give us balance last week, and I think he's going to continue to get better. For him, it's just about confidence; it's about getting reps in the game, getting carries. ... The more carries he gets, the better he's going to be for us, and the more great runs you're going to see.”