Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
POSTED: 12:31 p.m. HST, Oct 19, 2012
LAST UPDATED: 12:31 p.m. HST, Oct 19, 2012
GREEN BAY, Wis. » It would be a medical miracle if Cedric Benson were to show up in the Green Bay Packers’ backfield anytime soon.
But what if he were to come forth in some other form? What if he were to appear behind quarterback Aaron Rodgers wearing a different number and calling himself by a different name? What if he were there without really being there?
That might be happening right now through the emergence of Alex Green, the heir apparent to a job Benson held for the first five games and lost when he suffered a Lisfranc fracture in his left foot Oct. 7 against Indianapolis.
Benson will be out a minimum of eight weeks, but his presence will be felt through Green, a second-year pro from Hawaii, who after sitting out most of his rookie year with a torn ligament in his left knee finds himself the Packers’ starter.
The Packers signed Benson on Aug. 12 because they didn’t have the confidence that either Green or James Starks could handle the starting position. Benson was part of the reason Green wasn’t getting the ball this season. But now he’s turning out to be part of the reason Green is getting it regularly.
“I watched him a lot,” Green said Wednesday. “He might not even notice it, but I watch the little things he does, how he watches film, what kind of questions he asks in the meeting room and things like that.
“And then just watching him run the ball, I learn from things like that. He’s been a great help to me.”
Green (6-foot, 225 pounds) and Benson (5-11, 227) are built similarly, but until recently they played the position differently. Green tended to blast out of Point A in a mad dash to reach his final destination; Benson tended to leave more deliberately, choosing to see if there were alternative routes to Point B.
Judging from the way Green ran the ball Sunday against Houston, it’s apparent Benson has had some influence on the young back. You could see it in some of the plays Green ran during a 22-carry, 66-yard performance Sunday in a 42-24 victory.
Case in point would be a first down power run at the end of the first quarter.
Out of the shotgun formation, Green got the handoff and followed pulling guard T.J. Lang off right tackle. He looked for an open lane to either side of Lang before deciding it was not yet time to commit left or right.
Green stuck out his arm to let Lang know he was on his tail and then marched with him for 5 yards before finally working off the block and gaining another 4 yards to the left.
Turn on the tape from the week before and you would see Benson doing the exact same thing on a different running play, sticking tight to the guard while pumping his legs and milking every yard he could out of the run.
“He does a great job of that,” Green said. “That’s something I learned from him a little bit, just get behind the blockers and let them pave the way. Make the reads from there. Have the defense play those guys and I’ll go the opposite way.
“Keep moving forward and always fall forward and get positive yards.”
Green is far from the finished product that the eighth-year veteran Benson is, so he’s going to be learning on the run this season. He worked behind the offensive line in practice last year before getting hurt in Week 7 against Minnesota, so he has even a better feel than Benson for how they’re going to block.
But he’s still learning patience — when to wait a tick for a hole to open — as well as aim — running the designed course of the play. Against Houston, he had eight runs of 4 or more yards, including four of 7 or more. But also had eight runs that ended in no gain or lost yardage.
“There’s times you want the back to be patient and times when you want him to hit it downhill and just let him loose and go,” Lang said. “It depends on the play call. But we like the way he’s running the ball. He hits the holes hard.”
Green is physical. In fact, on Monday he woke up with a bruised shoulder that landed him on the injury report and limited him in practice.
“He got a lot of hard yards,” offensive coordinator Tom Clements said on Monday. “I’m sure the more opportunities he gets, he’ll feel more comfortable. Hopefully he’ll continue to play at the level he played at (Sunday) night.”
The biggest difference between Green and any back the Packers have had since Ahman Green is his home run ability. Ryan Grant showed a little of it in his first couple of years, but unlike Grant, Alex Green can change directions in a hurry.
In the loss to the Colts, he broke off a 41-yard run in which he ran through an open lane to the left and broke back all the way to the right sideline before being pushed out of bounds at the 8-yard line.
“I think he does a good job of setting defenders up,” right tackle Bryan Bulaga said. “He sets linebackers up and is able to make a cut and go the opposite way so he makes us as offensive linemen right all the time.
“I think that’s important when you have a back that can make you right. He’s done a good job of that.”
Green still has a number of things to prove to his coaches. He has to show he won’t fumble, he’s durable and he can be productive in all kinds of different situations, including in the cold at Lambeau Field. Green also has to continue to protect Rodgers on passing downs the way he did against the Texans.
If he continues to get 22 carries a game, Green will have every opportunity to show all that and more. Starks is still getting his legs under him after being sidelined two months with a turf toe, and Benson, provided his rehab goes well, won’t be back until December.
So, Green will keep channeling Benson and try to make the Packers’ run game a threat every week.
“It was a good start,” Green said of the Houston game. “It’s something to build on. It felt real good, especially getting a win.”