What will Packers running back rotation look like in '14?
Dec 29, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Green Bay Packers running back Eddie Lacy (27) leaps over Chicago Bears cornerback Tim Jennings (26) during the second quarter at Soldier Field. Image by Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
Going into the 2014 season, the Green Bay Packers appear to be in a position of strength with their stable of running backs - so strong that Mike McCarthy may have a tough decision to make.
This is in stark contrast to previous seasons when there were many questions and doubts about who would, or even could, carry the rock.
The Packers have an embarrassment of riches. They bring back the reigning offensive rookie of the year Eddie Lacy, and they recently re-signed seasoned veterans James Starks and John Kuhn.
All three are locks to make the team and see significant playing time.
However, we cannot forget Johnathan Franklin and DuJuan Harris, who may or may not be in the upcoming game plans.
What can we expect from the running backs in the 2014-2015 season? Will there be enough rosters spots and opportunities to carry the rock for five running backs?
Eddie Lacy is the unquestioned starter. After grinding out 1178 yards and 11 TDs, he will be first in the pecking order.
Lacy is also an accomplished receiver, with 35 receptions for 257 yards, and an excellent pass protector. He grew stronger as the 2013-2014 season progressed, and he seems poised for another great year.
Head coach Mike McCarthy likes to rotate his running backs, either by design to keep them fresh or simply by sticking with the hot hand.
James Starks will see the field often, probably when Lacy needs a spell. He’s also an excellent injury replacement who could start should Lacy get injured.
Kuhn is a fullback, so he won’t be competing for many carries outside of 3rd-and-short or goal line situations. Since he excels at pass protection, he will be on the field for many 3rd-and-long situations as well.
Coming out of college, many draft experts rated Franklin as the second best running back, right behind Eddie Lacy. However, despite having a monster game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Franklin rarely saw the field for the remainder of the season.
Reports indicated that Franklin struggled in pass protection, which prevented him from seeing the field more often.
McCarthy has been very high on Harris, but his 2013-2014 season prematurely ended with a knee injury. He goes into the new season as a big question mark, which includes his health and his chemistry with the rest of the offense.
While it’s not unheard of to keep four running backs on the active roster, the common convention in the NFL is to stick with three.
Who’s the odd man out? Obviously, minicamps and training camp will go a long way to answer this question.
Since both Harris and Franklin are more of the diminutive physique, it appears they will be competing for the final running back spot. The smaller-sized running back will most likely be used in specialized packages and as a change of pace.
Whoever shows the most progress in pass protection, offensive chemistry, or potentially adds additional value in the kick-return game will most likely win the spot.
Barring an injury, one of these talented prospects could be traded or outright released. That is, of course, unless Ted Thompson decides to keep all four rather than risk facing one of these runners as an opposing player.
No matter what the future holds with regard to roster decisions, it is a sign that the Packers are literally loaded at the running back position.
That’s a good problem to have.