The Green Bay Packers drafted a pair of running backs in the first four rounds this year for the first time since 1979. They also declared their admiration for DuJuan Harris and spoke optimistically that Alex Green and James Starks would put injuries behind them. Oh and fullback John Kuhn was allowed to return for the final year of his contract. But come next Sunday in San Francisco don't be a bit surprised if the slowest runner yet easily the best pass blocker of the group is lined up next to Aaron Rodgers as the Packers' third-down back. That would be Kuhn who performed capably in that role last season and down the stretch in 2010 when the Packers won the Super Bowl. Coach Mike McCarthy ran his controlled no-huddle or the hurry-up packages near the close of almost every practice this summer. Funny but it's possible Kuhn might never have participated. He played merely 19 snaps in the four exhibition games. Jonathan Amosa his rookie understudy saw double that. With Kuhn it doesn't really matter. McCarthy and more importantly Rodgers both know Kuhn will read a defense respond to an audible and block the pass rusher he's supposed to block. Yes the Packers would like a more dynamic threat on third downs. It's a big part of the reason why they selected Johnathan Franklin in the fourth round and prepared Harris for that spot. But with Franklin coming off an awful night in pass protection Thursday in Kansas City and Harris out for the season with a knee injury the Packers figure to use Kuhn on most third downs. The wild card would be wide receiver Randall Cobb who played 20 snaps at running back in the opener last year against the 49ers and 61 there overall. With Cobb on the field however the focus of the third-down offense dramatically changes. McCarthy won't ask the 192-pound Cobb to pick up a crashing linebacker. Instead he'll hand him the ball or release him into the flats and middle check-down area taking advantage of what he does best. With Cobb finally back from a biceps injury it might be a while before he's seen in the backfield. Against the Chiefs Franklin had five prime blitz pickups and didn't get the job done on four. It's strange because the 205-pound Franklin isn't afraid to stick his face in there. He did just that against inside linebacker Darin Drakeford and stopped him dead in his tracks. His problems in protection have come more in technique positioning and recognition. His size certainly doesn't help but when he's not getting his hands inside is late or lunging the quarterback gets blasted. Starks did some good things with the ball in his hand. With the middle jammed with defenders he instinctively bounced wide right and made a 10-yard gain out of nothing. Nevertheless even after four years he's still more of a liability both as a pass blocker and receiver. Despite his ideal size he just can't see to take rushers on down the middle. One time Starks didn't even try to use his hands against 256-pound Ridge Wilson. He tried some kind of shoulder-block cut block to which Wilson said "thank you" and went right through to the quarterback. Rookie Eddie Lacy will be the featured back. Given how much the Packers are expected to be in no-huddle in the midst of a series he will have much to prepare each week. The Packers can't afford to wear Lacy down on third downs. Plus his blitz pickup has been no better than adequate. Green isn't bad in protection but might not make the team. He and Starks are better players from scrimmage than Franklin at this point but the rookie showed some ability covering kicks against the Chiefs. Stranger things have happened but it's unlikely general manager Ted Thompson would give up on a fourth-round pick so soon. Former Jet Joe McKnight (5-11 205) says he will audition Saturday in Green Bay. It's possible that could affect what happens at the position before the Packers must reduce their 75-man roster to the final 53 by 5 p.m.
John Kuhn could be Packers go-to man on 3rd downs
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel | Aug 31