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Ahman Green and the disappearing every-down back

Nov. 6, 2013
 
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Early in his career with the Green Bay Packers, there were times Ahman Green would be nervous about heading to the bench when he became tired after consecutive carries or a long-yardage gain. When the Packers’ all-time leading rusher found himself short of breath and needing to regroup, it was usually best for Green to stay out of the line of vision of his position coaches — first Sylvester Croom and later Edgar Bennett. “I can remember them being mad at me when I’d come off the field,” said Green with a smile. “I’d be like, ‘Coach, I need a break. I’m in there every play,’ but it’s like first down, second down, third down — I’m still in.” So nowadays when Green sits down to watch an NFL game, the 35-year-old retired halfback can’t help but smile a little when he sees one running back after another scamper onto the field during the same scoring drive. Gone are the days where a majority of NFL teams relied on a single bell-cow running back to get them through the season. Now, most teams have surrendered to the growing popularity of running backs by committee — the more backs, the better. “I’m old school, so I’m like, ‘Get tough, play the whole game. It’ll make you stronger in the end,’ but that’s the way the league is going,” said Green during his introductory news conference as a new member of the Green Bay Blizzard’s ownership group. “I didn’t have plays off, so explaining that to my kids and younger football players who don’t understand that I was one of those backs, like the other guys who came in like Fred Taylor and Adrian Peterson, I was an every-down back. Marshall Faulk was an every-down back. Now, it’s coming to a running back by committee because offenses are fitted that way.” In his 12-year NFL career, Green rushed for 9,205 yards on 2,056 carries with 74 touchdowns (60 rushing, 14 receiving). During his second stint with the Packers in 2009, Green surpassed Jim Taylor as the franchise’s all-time leading rusher, finishing his career with 8,322 rushing yards in a Packers uniform. When Green set the Packers’ record for rushing yards in a season at 1,883 yards in 2003, he was one of 13 individuals to have more than 300 carries and one of 18 league running backs to rush for more than 1,000 yards. Although 14 individuals still rushed for 1,000 yards in 2011, only two had more than 300 carries and only one — Jacksonville’s Maurice Jones-Drew — rushed for more than 1,500 yards (1,606). Since Green last played in the NFL in 2009, the NFL has continued to evolve into a more pass-oriented league, including this past year when both Drew Brees (5,476) and Tom Brady (5,235) surpassed Dan Marino’s record for passing yards in a single season, which was set at 5,084 in 1984. Although the 2003 season doesn't seem that long ago, the evolving offensive dynamics of today's NFL have made for a noticeable change in the nine years that have passed. “I would say from a physical standpoint, all the running backs coming out of college right now aren’t built that way,” Green said. “They aren’t built for pounding between the tackles, they’re built for speed. It’s more like a Camaro or Lamborghini than a SVU. They’re built for speed, speed plays and quick hitting draw plays. A back like me, they’re very few and far between these days.” —whodkiew@greenbaypressgazette.com and follow him on Twitter @WesHod

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