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Notebook: RBs eager to fill void left by Harris injury

Aug. 29, 2013
 

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Green Bay Packers running back Johnathan Franklin takes the handoff from quarterback Vince Young during the first half Thursday night against the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo. / AP

Injury report

Did not participate: QB Aaron Rodgers (coach’s decision), LB Clay Matthews (coach’s decision), TE Jermichael Finley (coach’s decision), CB Jarrett Bush (ankle), CB James Nixon (ankle, knee), CB Casey Hayward (hamstring), S Morgan Burnett (hamstring), S Brad Jones (hamstring), LB Dezman Moses (toe).

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KANSAS CITY, MO. — The realization DuJuan Harris would be lost for the season with a knee injury sent shockwaves through the Green Bay Packers’ backfield earlier this week.

However, injury breeds opportunity, and in fourth-round rookie running back Johnathan Franklin’s case, it meant a chance at redeeming himself from a quiet opening training camp.

After coming into Thursday’s preseason finale against Kansas City with 13 carries for 24 yards (1.8-yards per carry average) in three appearances, the former UCLA standout took his best stab at providing a complement to second-round pick Eddie Lacy.

With Lacy exiting after one three-and-out series, Franklin carried the workload through the first half and took what was given to him on eight carries for 23 yards with two catches for 11 yards, including a 14-yard gain in the second quarter on a second-and-13 check down.

Without Harris on the field, it’ll be up to Franklin and veterans Alex Green and James Starks to step up to improve a rushing offense that finished 20th in the NFL last season.

“We got to,” said Franklin of the rest of the running back room needing to step up without Harris. “We all understand the problem we had in the run game last year. We all understand we have to help out No. 12, and that run game is a big part of sustaining success.”

Franklin still has areas that need to be refined, particularly in pass protection, where the 5-foot-10, 205-pound running back whiffed on two separate blitz pickups of Kansas City linebacker Darin Drakeford.

He openly admits to pressing and not being patient enough during the opening weeks of camp, but now he hopes to supply some support for a Packers’ offense that’ll have to learn to live without Harris, a 5-foot-7, 203-pound spark plug who was expected to have a sizable offensive role this season.

Packers coach Mike McCarthy was downtrodden when addressing the aggravated knee injury Harris sustained in last Friday’s 17-10 loss to Seattle to the same patellar tendon that sidelined him for most of the offseason and training camp.

Green still doesn’t feel comfortable with his position on the 53-man roster following Thursday’s seven-carry, 10-yard performance, but it would be a small surprise if he wasn’t one of the three backs complementing Lacy in the regular-season opener in San Francisco in a little more than a week.

Prior to Harris’ injury, it appeared the Packers might part ways with one of their two veterans, but now have the look of a running attack that could use the increased depth.

“We’re going to have to take that next step as a unit, especially in the run game,” said Green, who led the team in preseason rushing with 21 carries for 72 yards. “We’re going to have to step it up and be productive. The things that we haven’t been able to do the past year or two year here and losing DuJuan was a big hurt to our offense.”

Williams pick

Tramon Williams took only one snap during the preseason, but the 30-year-old cornerback sure made it count.

After returning to practice this week from a bone bruise that sidelined him for most of camp, Williams picked off a floater from Chiefs quarterback Chase Daniel on the first snap of the game.

Earlier in the week, Williams said he wasn’t planning to play against Kansas City but tested out well enough from his three practices this week to start at right cornerback and get one brief but important rep.

“I went out there and made the one play count, but I hope the knee don’t give me any issues,” said Williams, who said he had a good idea he would be playing a series against the Chiefs. “It’s been good so far. It’s been holding up in practices and things like that. It hasn’t been swelling up, so it’s been showing good signs.”

With Casey Hayward (hamstring), Jarrett Bush (ankle) and James Nixon (ankle, knee) all out with injury and Williams calling it a day after the interception, the Packers’ reserve cornerbacks continued to get extra playing time.

That included one of the more hot-and-cold prospects in camp, receiver-turned-cornerback Brandon Smith, who intercepted a Tyler Bray pass to start the third quarter but also fell down in coverage on a Josh Bellamy 43-yard touchdown reception near the end. It was one of three touchdowns he allowed in the loss.

Stating the case

A whirlwind month came to a close for undersized safety Chris Banjo, who generated two pressures, exited briefly with a hip injury and returned to register a fourth-quarter sack against the Chiefs.

Will the performance be enough to convince the Packers to hold onto the 5-foot-10 product of SMU, who was signed off the street three days into camp?

“I felt like I’ve done as much I can positively in terms of my effort and assignments,” Banjo said. “Whether or not I made enough plays, that’s obviously something for the decision-makers, but I just thank God for this opportunity. It’s in his hands and he’s going to take care of me regardless.”

Extra points

■ As was the case in practice this week, first-year tight end Brandon Bostick continued to get first-team reps on special teams in front of close friend and third-year veteran D.J. Williams.

Bostick, who spent the entire 2012 season on the practice squad, has reportedly been drawing trade interest around the league as the most intriguing of the Packers’ seven tight ends on the roster one year into his conversion a wide receiver at Division II Newberry College.

■ David Bakhtiari started at left tackle, but played only one snap after being hit in the groin. He was only scheduled to play one series with the offensive line and never had a chance to get back onto the field after being supplanted by fourth-year veteran Marshall Newhouse.

■ Packers offensive coordinator Tom Clements handled play-calling duties instead of McCarthy.

■ Former Packers linebacker Frank Zombo picked off B.J. Coleman in the first quarter.

-whodkiew@pressgazettemedia.com and follow him on Twitter @WesHod.

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