Buffalo Bills' Marshawn Lynch makes a catch at NFL football training camp in Pittsford, N.Y., Friday, July 30, 2010. / David Duprey/AP
If the Green Bay Packers consider acquiring a halfback by the Oct. 19 trading deadline, quarterback Aaron Rodgers said he’d give a high recommendation for his former University of California teammate Marshawn Lynch.
Lynch might be available in a trade with Buffalo now that he’s the Bills’ No. 3 halfback, though his off-field background could be a concern for any team considering trading for him.
“Bring him on,” Rodgers said with a smile when asked what he’d tell the Packers if they sought his opinion.
Lynch was the second halfback selected in the 2007 draft behind only Adrian Peterson, but there were off-field concerns when Buffalo took him at No. 12 overall. Lynch rushed for 1,115 yards and a 4.0-yard average as a rookie and 1,036 yards and 4.1-yard average in 2008 but was suspended for three games in 2009 for violating the NFL’s personal-conduct policy. The suspension was for two arrests in less than a year: for misdemeanor gun possession and a hit-and-run accident.
Rodgers and Lynch played together at the University of California for one season in 2006.
“He’s a great player,” Rodgers said. “Any character issues that a team might see, in a situation like that, and you’ve seen that with different players across the league, when you give a change of scenery, and a guy like that who might feel like he has something to prove, and surround him with two guys, (linebacker Desmond) Bishop and myself who played with him (at California), that can only help him feel comfortable and see a lot of production.”
There’s no indication Packers General Manager Ted Thompson is pursuing Lynch or any other halfbacks around the league, and several reports said the Bills don’t appear interested in trading Lynch. But Lynch probably won’t play much in Buffalo behind first-round pick C.J. Spiller and backup Fred Jackson, and the sides could discuss a deal at some point.
In the meantime, the Packers are preparing for the rest of the season without Ryan Grant, who’s been their workhorse halfback the past 2½ years but was lost for the season with a severe ankle injury suffered in the season-opening game in Philadelphia. Since becoming the primary back in Week 7 of 2007, Grant had 79.1 percent of the Packers’ carries by their running backs going into this season and was expected to carry a similar load this year.
“His production on the field, that speaks for itself, especially in the winter months when it’s important to run the ball,” Rodgers said. “He’s a hard runner for 16 games-plus, so it’s difficult. I don’t think one guy can fill that role, it’s going to have to be a group effort from those running backs.”
Brandon Jackson looks likely to get the bulk of Grant’s carries for now, but he had durability issues coming into this season. As a rookie he sustained a shin injury that sidelined him for four games; in 2008 he missed the last two games because of a wrist injury; and last year he missed the first four games because of a sprained ankle.
Since his rookie season, Jackson has won the praise of Packers coach Mike McCarthy for his gains in the offseason workout program and has put on about 10 pounds, up to his 220-pound weight this year. This offseason he took another step to address his health and cut out junk food. For the first time in his four years in the NFL, he didn’t miss a practice in training camp.
“I took 2½, three years for (a starting chance) to happen again, and I’m prepared,” Jackson said. “Three years of preparing to be the starter, I’m ready.”
Jackson had been the Packers’ passing-down halfback, but with him taking over as primary runner he’ll probably now share those duties with John Kuhn. Though Kuhn is a fullback, the Packers liked him enough in one-back sets that they made him their de facto No. 3 halfback by cutting Kregg Lumpkin at the end of training camp so they could keep a player at another position.
Kuhn, who had two carries for 15 yards against Philadelphia last week, has 30 rushes in three-plus seasons with the Packers, mostly on goal-line plays. He also has 13 receptions since joining the Packers in 2007. In college at Division II Shippensburg, he rushed for 4,685 yards and a 5.1-yard average in primarily a one-back offense.
Kuhn is an injury away from being the starter.
“We play a lot of one-back,” McCarthy said, “and we have since I have been here. John has played one-back. (Fullback) Korey (Hall) can play the one-back position. The one-back position carries fullback and halfback responsibilities, and we’re prepared to go forward.”
The No. 3 back is Dimitri Nance, the undrafted rookie from Arizona State signed this week off Atlanta’s practice squad. The Packers tried to sign him to their practice squad after final cuts, but Nance had been in training camp with Atlanta and stayed with the Falcons.
Though Nance (5-feet-10, 219) gained only 51 yards on 21 carries in the preseason, the Packers considered him well suited for their one-cut, zone blocking run game.
The Packers also figure to become even more pass-oriented than they’ve been. They have one of the league’s best quarterbacks in Rodgers, plus a quality four-deep receiving corps in addition to tight end Jermichael Finley.