Anyone who follows the Green Bay Packers understands that there have been some changes recently in the offensive backfield. With a new, young quarterback in Aaron Rodgers set to learn on the fly and earn his stripes this season, coupled with the obvious need to put more emphasis on the running game while Rodgers gains invaluable experience, most are assuming that Ryan Grant will have a very good year. He very well could. However, there are several reasons to think that Ryan won’t be the best running back on Green Bay’s roster in 2008. That mantle may very well go to Brandon Jackson.
Grant burst onto the scene last year, and in what proved to be one of Ted Thompson’s best trades to date, rushed for nearly 1,000 yards in approximately a half-season’s worth of carries. He destroyed Seattle in the divisional playoff round after overcoming two horrible gaffes to start the game, and even though his performance was disappointing in the NFC Championship game, so was that of many other members of the team that night.
Since then, Jackson has slowly gained on Grant’s assumed lock on the starting running back position. He worked diligently in the off-season, adding obvious bulk to his frame. He also clearly worked his core and his footwork, as he’s noticeably quicker this summer. Grant worked out privately while his contract situation played out.
When training camp began, Jackson immediately got the starter’s share of carries, and had a productive camp and showed many positive signs in the first three preseason games. He seems to run more instinctively than last year, and certainly runs with more confidence.
Given the struggles on the interior of Green Bay’s offensive line, Jackson has also had to avoid more than one would-be tackler within a split-second of receiving the hand-off, and he’s perfected the duck-under spin move in the backfield to avoid initial contact while also maintaining ball security.
Frankly, the tailback for Green Bay, especially early in the season, is going to need that elusiveness until the offensive line comes together, which recent history has shown to occur at about the mid-point of the season. Jackson has that. Grant, while a perfect fit for the zone blocking scheme, is not elusive and is more of a power/slasher type. That’s a tremendous weapon to have when there are holes, but when there are not, he could struggle.
Grant’s off-season, largely through no fault of his own, has not been positive. He missed all of the off-season work, missed almost all of training camp, and in true shades of Dorsey Levens in 1998, was injured almost immediately upon his return. Grant’s injury wasn’t nearly as severe as Levens’ nor did it occur as late in the season, but it’s a tell-tale sign of someone not only not being in football shape, but someone who has not had the benefit of offseason work with the team and the instinctive timing that comes with it.
Regardless of how the season plays out, Green Bay is going to need at least two running backs to perform at a high level this season. If anything, Jackson’s emergence will allow Grant to ease into his role somewhat without the added pressure of being depended upon for the bulk of the offensive production.
Look for Grant to ultimately play a large role in an offense that should be powerful by the end of the season, but Jackson will get an early jump and ultimately finish with more yards rushing, assuming he stays healthy. Look for Jackson to start getting more touches sometime in the second half of the Minnesota game to open the season, and for that trend to continue for awhile.