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NAJEH IS THE KEY

By Jerry Gilbert 6-24-05
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One the surface, running back is one of the few positions for the Green Bay Packers that presents no issues. Ahman Green is one of the better halfbacks in all of football, not only as a great runner, but also as a dependable blocker and receiver. Now in his contract year, Green has every incentive to avoid fumbling and to run as well or better than ever.

Behind Green there is Najeh Davenport, who, when healthy, is a more punishing runner and nearly as dependable as Green to make yardage when needed. Behind Davenport is an excellent third down back, Tony Fisher. The running back position is already a strength on the team, and should continue to be so.

The problem is next season and beyond, because both Green and Davenport are free agents, and each will draw interest from other teams next year. Of course, the franchise or transition tags might be used to keep one of them, but which one? And if neither is signed by the end of this season, both could leave, and then would Brett Favre's retirement be far behind?

So who is the priority? Ahman Green is an all-pro caliber running back, but he tends to fumble the ball, and at age 28 he poses a risk for the only contract he might sign 5-6 years. Najeh Davenport at age 26, and having never taken the pounding of a principal running back, would seem to have more good years ahead of him, but he has never been the starter, and he is frequently injured. The older guy fumbles and the younger, is less proven, and gets hurt too much. Which one will be the running back in future years? It is way too early to tell.

However, the play of Najeh Davenport in pre-season could reveal the likely strategy. If Davenport excels and stays healthy, he may become the future starter. If he gets hurt, or is only pretty good, then the proven Green remains the more likely focus for long-term contract negotiation this season. Davenport holds the key to his own (and Ahman Green's) future.

Unfortunately, the Green Bay Packers have had difficulty establishing a running game in recent pre-seasons. That may continue because the offensive line is in the process of integrating some new members. On the other hand, the "established" offensive line of the previous training camps may have been "going through the motions" in meaningless games. This summer, there is real competition at both starting guard positions and for every back-up. Candidates for the offensive line (as well as at the equally competitive tight end position) have an incentive to give a little extra effort this pre-season. Once the season begins, Ahman Green will be the featured back. Najeh Davenport's time is now.

Behind the big three, the situation is murky. Should any of them sustain an injury, the Packer scouts will be combing their files for candidates released by other teams. Green Bay does have Walter Williams who ran well in his one opportunity last season; however he is not yet a competent blocker or receiver. Rookie Chris Robertson 6-1 230 from Houston may be an interesting project. He had a successful sophomore season at Texas, but then sat out a year in order to transfer to Houston, where he was also successful as a senior. Chaz Williams 5-9 210 is the only other runner on the roster.

The Green Bay Packers of recent seasons have featured an excellent running attack because of an experienced line and Ahman Green. Once Brett Favre retires, the running game will become even more important. The 'experienced line" is in a period of transition. Next season, the running back position will also go through changes. This season, the running game should be in pretty good shape.

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