Dougherty: Packers' offense needs speed

Pete Dougherty
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Green Bay Packers running back James Starks (44) battles for yardage against the Minnesota Vikings strong safety Andrew Sendejo (34) at U.S. Bank Stadium.

You can tell something about the Green Bay Packers’ roster by the two running backs they brought in recently for look-sees.

Jhurell Pressley and C.J. Spiller are fast even by NFL standards.

Pressley, claimed off waivers by the Packers two weeks ago but then cut last week, ran the 40-yard dash in 4.38 seconds at his Pro Day at New Mexico last spring.

Spiller, who worked out for but wasn’t signed by the Packers on Tuesday, ran 4.37 as the No. 9 overall pick in the 2010 draft. He’s no longer quite that fast at age 29, but you get the point.

The Packers lack big-play speed in their backfield.

I’m sure part of that is by design. General manager Ted Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy want power backs for the cold-weather games in December and January at Lambeau Field. Eddie Lacy especially and James Starks to a lesser degree are that.

But Thompson hasn’t selected a running back in his last three drafts, and with Lacy and Starks the only backs on the roster, the Packers’ offense lacks a dynamic element that a fast halfback might bring as a change-of-pace or third-down player.

It leaves you to wonder why Thompson and McCarthy didn’t sign Spiller. Maybe it’s because they’re saving their open roster spot for a position of need elsewhere, most likely defensive line. Letroy Guion and part-time defensive lineman Datone Jones missed practice Wednesday because of knee injuries, and their availability for Sunday is unclear. The Packers might want the roster spot for rookie Brian Price, who’s on their practice squad.

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But this offense needs all the help it can get at this point, and mixing in a back who brings an added degree of speed might help. I’m sure that’s why the Packers brought Spiller in for the workout in the first place: to see if he’s still explosive.

Regardless of their decision there, the Packers’ run game has been like the rest of their offense for much of last season through two games this year: Blah.

McCarthy probably was right earlier this week when he said he needs to run it more than he did the first two games. If you count Aaron Rodgers’ scrambles as called pass plays, the Packers ran on 34 percent of their offensive snaps at Jacksonville and Minnesota combined. That’s low even by NFL standards.

Lacy had only 12 carries against the Vikings last week, and he probably needs at least 18 to stand much chance of wearing down the defense with his size and power.

But there’s also still reason to wonder whether Lacy is any closer to his difference-making form of 2013 and '14.

Green Bay Packers running back Eddie Lacy (27) chugs down the sidelines as middle linebacker Paul Posluszny (51) tries to make the tackle against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Everbank Field.

Because truth be told, Lacy doesn’t look appreciably lighter than last year. It looks to me like after he lost a lot of weight early in the offseason working with P90X trainer Tony Horton, Lacy gradually put most of it back on. He might be lighter than in 2015, but the difference is marginal.

That doesn’t necessarily mean he doesn’t have the stamina for a greater load — perhaps he does even if it doesn’t show in his physique. We’ll find out if McCarthy in fact runs it more starting in this week’s home opener against Detroit.

But there’s also the question of how good a runner Lacy will be whether he carries the ball a lot or a little. Yes, he looks capable of having his moments — at least twice at Minnesota last week he ran with some power and abandon while breaking tackles and moving the pile. There could be some nice games in his near future.

But Lacy still doesn’t look like the same running back who, for instance, exploded through the left side of the line at Dallas for a 60-yard run in Week 15 of his rookie season, 2013. If you want to see a big back burst through a hole, find a replay of that run. That extra zip still isn’t there.

Starks isn’t a pure power runner like Lacy, but his slashing style still is in that vein. The Packers don’t have a third back on their roster, so that’s all they have to work with. There’s no one who can change things up with his speed.

Really, it’s symptomatic of the offense as a whole. A dynamic element is missing.

In the passing game, Jordy Nelson is coming off ACL surgery; Randall Cobb is a small receiver who’s more quick than fast; and Davante Adams isn’t a quick-twitch player. So far, they’ve had almost all the snaps (90.7 percent) taken by the Packers’ receivers.

Nelson and Cobb, you can understand. But Ty Montgomery (third round last year) and Trevor Davis (fifth-round pick this year) were drafted to add some juice to the offense. Why they haven’t rotated in more for Adams — Montgomery had nine snaps in the opener and none last week; Davis played five at Minnesota after missing the opener because of a shoulder injury — is tougher to understand.

Now, it’s early in the season, and there’s more than enough time for McCarthy to adjust his offense in ways large and small. Shortcomings in one area can be masked by strengths in another. But if this team has one glaring need, it’s for speed. and follow him on Twitter @PeteDougherty.

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