NFL Nation: Vernand Morency
Best: Arian Foster is the best guy they’ve had, but he was undrafted so he doesn’t qualify. It’s not a great list, but the best of the lot was Domanick Williams, who became Domanick Davis, a fourth-rounder in 2003. In three seasons, he averaged 4.1 yards a carry and scored 28 touchdowns. That’s pretty solid production for a back during a three-year stretch when his team was 14-34.
Worst: Lots of options here. I remember thinking that 2002 fourth-rounder Jonathan Wells was simply not an NFL back. Vernand Morency (2005, third), Wali Lundy (2006, sixth) and Tony Hollings (2003, second in the supplemental draft) were also not good. The Texans got just one season plus one game out of Morency, who couldn’t get ahead of Ron Dayne, Lundy or Samkon Gado. But the least value came from Hollings, who earned just 49 carries in three seasons. Pro Football Reference says his weighted career average ranks him 10,562nd since 1950.
Best: He takes a lot of grief because he’s not necessarily a big producer for fantasy leagues, but Joseph Addai (2006, first) is very effective at doing what’s asked when he’s healthy. He’s got a darting style that’s suited for the team, he’s a great pass-catcher and he’s very reliable in protecting Peyton Manning.
Worst: The team spent late picks on backs in 2002 (Brian Allen), 2005 (Anthony Davis) and 2006 (T.J. Rushing) and none of them did much. Hard to grade hard on such low picks, but it’s too early to talk Donald Brown (2009 first-rounder) here. Allen had one kick return in 2003 and Davis didn’t make the team. We’ll declare it a tie, acknowledging a hit with either would have qualified as a nice surprise.
Best: Maurice Jones-Drew is the centerpiece of the team and was a steal in the second round (60th overall) of the 2006 draft. The Jaguars passed on him at No. 28 in the first round, when they took tight end Marcedes Lewis. MJD qualifies as the face of the franchise.
Worst: LaBrandon Toefield and Alvin Pearman made contributions on a team that was in pretty good shape at the position with Fred Taylor and then Jones-Drew. So while it’s unfair to hit them for a seventh-rounder from 2008, it also means they’ve done pretty well. Three years into his career, Chauncey Washington finished 2010 on the practice squad of the St. Louis Rams.
Best: You’d expect the 24th overall pick to be here and Chris Johnson certainly is the selection. He’s coming off a 1,364-yard, 12-TD season that was largely regarded as a failure because he’d set the bar so high with his 2,006-yard rushing season in 2009. He’s as fast as or faster than any running back in the league.
Worst: The Titans fell in love with Chris Henry at the combine and let his measurable outweigh his unspectacular performance at Arizona. The second-round pick the team spent on Henry in 2007 amounted to a waste. The Titans kept him for three seasons to try to justify spending the 50th overall pick on him, which was longer than the needed to know he was a strikeout. He played in just 10 games.
|AP Photo/David Zalubowski|
|Rookie Ryan Torain could be the solution to Denver's problems in the running game.|
Posted by ESPN .com's Bill Williamson
Coming off a rushing effort in which they compiled 14 yards rushing (the second lowest in team history) Sunday against Miami, the Broncos have to replace half their running back crew.
Denver put starter Michael Pittman and backup Andre Hall on the injured reserve. Pittman has a neck injury and Hall has has a hand injury. Now, the Broncos' only running backs on the roster are second-year player Selvin Young, who has missed the past three games with a groin injury, and rookie Ryan Torain, who made his NFL debut on Sunday and he had one yard on three carries. Torain broke his elbow in training camp.
And making matters worse, Denver, which has lost four of the past five games, have to play Thursday at Cleveland.
Expect Torain and Young to carry the load against the Browns on a short week. The plan was to ease Torain into the offense against Miami and he may be ready for more action Thursday. Young was close to being healthy last week and he could be ready to help Thursday.
Still, Torain isn't ready to help in the passing game and Young has had major durability issues.
It is clear Denver will try to add a running back or two to the mix. But the rest of the season depends on Torain and Young, probably in that order. Torain will be given every chance to become the go-to back. When he was injured, the team was devastated. Denver coach Mike Shanahan, one of the most successful running coaches in the history of the NFL, compared Torain, a fifth-round pick from Arizona State, to Denver great Terrell Davis.
The Broncos think Torain, who nearly stole the starting job in camp before he was hurt, has the perfect size-speed combination to excel in their zone-blocking offense. The Broncos certainly need him to excel. The run game has been stagnant. The Broncos are ranked 19th in the NFL in rushing as it is averaging 105.2 yards a game. That is way before Denver's standards.
Another reason why Torain is being asked to produce is because there aren't many running backs remaining on the open market. So help isn't necessarily on the way. Former Denver running backs highlight the list of available rushers. They include Tatum Bell, Mike Bell and Ron Dayne. Other running backs available are Anthony Thomas, Vernand Morency and Wali Lundy. Denver has visited with both of those players in the past. Morency visited Denver a few weeks ago. The team could also promote running back P.J. Pope from the practice squad.
Denver could also potentially use rookie fullback Peyton Hillis at tailback. He has experience there and he is an emergency tailback for Denver. He is coming off his best NFL game. The seventh-round pick, who blocked for Darren McFadden and Felix Jones in college, has seven catches against Miami.
Still, expect Torain to be given the ball and given the opportunity to knock the banged-up Broncos out of their malaise.
We all knew the Detroit Lions were committed to improving their running game this season. But with all the problems they've had in their first two games, it's a little jarring to see reports of their running back tea party Tuesday at team headquarters.
Two weeks after signing veteran Rudi Johnson, the Lions had former MVP Shaun Alexander and ex-Green Bay runner Vernand Morency work out for them. Disgraced former Chicago tailback Cedric Benson also visited.
None were signed, and reports indicated the Lions were merely building an internal scouting report should they need to add a runner in the future. But as John Niyo of the Detroit News points out, the same thing was said the night Johnson arrived for his visit Labor Day weekend.
As it stands, Johnson is backing up rookie starter Kevin Smith. The No. 3 runner is rookie Marcus Thomas, whom the Lions claimed on waivers from San Diego.
From this vantage point, personnel in the backfield ranks pretty low on the Lions' list of concerns. You can only hope the Lions are attacking the rest of their issues with the same tenacity.
Elsewhere around the NFC North this morning:
- After losing three of five night games last season, Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy commissioned an internal study to compare his team's performance during day and night games. The results, according to Jason Wilde of the Wisconsin State Journal, were noticeable. They averaged more than four additional penalties at night and had a significantly worse turnover ratio. The Packers play Sunday night against Dallas, the second of four prime-time games this season for a team with an average age of 25.57.
- Minnesota probably wishes Carolina receiver Steve Smith was suspended for one more game. The last time he played them, Smith caught 11 passes for 201 yards in a 2005 game. On the first play of the 2001 season, Smith returned a kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown at the Metrodome.
- Talk about the impact of big plays: More than a third of the total yards the Vikings have allowed came on four explosive plays. The exact figures, according to the Star Tribune: 220 of 638 yards.
- Although the Bears haven't updated the status of kick returner/receiver Devin Hester, the Chicago Tribune reports he should be healthy enough to play Sunday against Tampa Bay.
The Green Bay Packers were so impressed this summer with running back Kregg Lumpkin, an undrafted rookie from Georgia, that they released three veteran backs to keep him on the roster. Vernand Morency, Noah Herron and DeShawn Wynn were all jettisoned when Lumpkin won the No. 3 tailback job behind Ryan Grant and Brandon Jackson. (Wynn was later signed to the practice squad).
The idea was for Lumpkin to provide depth while learning the ropes from Grant and Jackson. But with Grant nursing a sore hamstring and Jackson recovering from a mild concussion, Lumpkin took all the snaps at tailback Wednesday in practice. Both Grant and Jackson are expected to play Sunday at Detroit, but the situation underscores the faith the Packers have in a rookie few NFL fans might have heard of.
"I think he could handle it all," coach Mike McCarthy told reporters in Green Bay. "He's done a very good job with his opportunities."
Lumpkin was active but did not play in Monday night's 24-19 victory over Minnesota. Based on the health of his teammates, that could change Sunday in Detroit.
Elsewhere around the NFC this on this Thursday morning:
- Under McCarthy, the Packers are a combined 9-0 against Minnesota and Detroit. Conveniently, they open the season against those two teams. Overall, McCarthy is 10-3 against the NFC North.
- Vikings coach Brad Childress on quarterback Tarvaris Jackson's mindset: "He's doing fine. It's not like he's on suicide watch or anything like that."
- The Lions made a number of lineup moves Wednesday, but it doesn't appear that first-round draft pick Gosder Cherilus will be involved in any of them. Cherilus will continue to back up right tackle George Foster for at least one more week. It's probably a smart move to avoid starting a rookie against Packers left defensive end Aaron Kampman.
- Sunday's Packers-Lions game will be televised locally in Detroit after a furniture store purchased the remaining 3,100 tickets to secure a sellout.
- David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune on Bears quarterback Kyle Orton: "Don't get caught up in the notion that Orton can't make plays or win games. That tag might have applied when Orton was a rookie asked mostly to hand off. Now, three years later, the Bears expect him to do more and need him to do more."
You can view the Packers' list of roster moves here.
Biggest surprise: You knew some good running backs would get released given the Packers' depth at the position, but you just didn't know who. As it turned out, the Packers released two veterans -- Vernand Morency and Noah Herron -- in favor of rookie Kregg Lumpkin. (The Packers had already waived DeShawn Wynn.) Lumpkin was one of the surprises of training camp and impressed coaches with his tenacity as well as his skills. Of course, the majority of the Packers' carries this season will go to Ryan Grant and Brandon Jackson.
No-brainers: The receiver position was another area of depth for the Packers, so it wasn't surprising to see them release four wideouts Saturday. Most notable was seventh-round pick Brett Swain. But few rookies were going to crack a group that includes Donald Driver, Greg Jennings, James Jones and Ruvell Martin. (Second-round draft choice Jordy Nelson was the only one.)
What's next: Although his injury was not believed to be season-ending, the Packers placed long-snapper J.J. Jansen on injured reserve because of a sprained lateral collateral ligament. The means they will have to find a new long snapper this week. Thomas Gafford, waived by the Bears on Saturday, could be a possibility. The Packers could also bring in several players for tryouts before deciding what direction they're going. Meanwhile, although quarterbacks Matt Flynn and Brian Brohm both made the roster, there are no guarantees the Packers won't seek a veteran backup for Aaron Rodgers this week.
We shut things down Thursday night at halftime of the Chicago Bears' third preseason game. But it appears their defense fared no better at the start of the third quarter in a 37-30 loss to the San Francisco 49ers.
After a first half in which they allowed 248 yards, the Bears gave up a 62-yard drive to struggling 49ers quarterback Alex Smith. Overall, the Chicago defense surrendered 425 yards, including 160 on the ground during a wholly uninspiring night for their defense.
Here's what defensive coordinator Bob Babich said about the display, according to the Chicago Sun-Times:
"Yeah, I'm very disappointed. We're very disappointed in our play tonight. We are a very good defense. We are going to be a dominant defense. We just need to make sure when we go out and play that we play at that level. We need to make sure the guys are in the right spots, and that all starts with me."
The poor defensive showing, however, didn't totally overshadow a promising start from quarterback Kyle Orton three days after he was named the Bears' permanent starter. Orton completed 10 of 17 passes for 147 yards and two touchdowns, including a nicely-placed 21-yard strike to receiver Rashied Davis.
Here's how Chicago Tribune beat writer David Haugh put it: "As many questions as the defense raised, Orton answered a bigger one in a convincing manner."
Elsewhere around the NFC North:
- Green Bay Packers safety Aaron Rouse, whose 6-foot-4 frame makes him a pretty scary defensive back, will be relegated to special teams status again this season, writes Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
- Jason Wilde of the Wisconsin State Journal offers a Packers roster analysis. Among those he considers on the bubble: Running backs Vernand Morency and Noah Herron, tight end Tory Humphrey, defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, defensive tackle Justin Harrell and cornerback Jarrett Bush.
- Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com provides a similar analysis on the Detroit Lions. His bubble players include running back Tatum Bell, right tackle George Foster and linebacker Buster Davis.
- Minnesota Vikings coach Brad Childress on how he is handling quarterback Tarvaris Jackson's knee injury: "I do not want to insinuate with him that he's not a tough guy or has to play injured. He has to be able to have some of his faculties. He's got to be able to protect himself."
- Vikings receiver Bernard Berrian is expected to play Saturday night against Pittsburgh after missing the team's last preseason game because of turf toe.
Yes, the Green Bay Packers have focused this summer on transitioning to a new starting quarterback. (We have mentioned that a time or two on this blog). But an important facet of that transition was supposed to be having tailback Ryan Grant established as their every down running back.
The idea was that having a starter with some pedigree -- Grant nearly cracked the 1,000-yard barrier last season even after sitting mostly idle for the first six games -- would take some pressure off quarterback Aaron Rodgers. It would also help align the Packers offense more closely with what coach Mike McCarthy says his core values are: Power running and aggressive defense.
That plan has yet to develop, however. Grant held out the first week of training camp and has sat out the preseason because of a nagging hamstring injury. He missed practice again Thursday and, according to the Wisconsin State Journal, appears unlikely to play Friday at Denver.
McCarthy said Grant is getting close to returning to practice, but his summer already is a bust. There are plenty of established running backs who get minimal work during the preseason, but Grant's situation is a little different. He has done minimal football activities since the end of last season, sitting out offseason practices because of the contract situation and participating in only a handful of training camp practices because of the hamstring.
For those reasons, it's reasonable to start wondering how prepared Grant will be for the grind of a 16-game season. The Packers have depth on their roster -- Brandon Jackson, Vernand Morency and Noah Herron to name a few -- but Grant proved last season he is a step above them. It's a situation definitely worth monitoring as the regular season approaches.
Continuing our morning jog around the NFC North:
- Packers linebacker Brady Poppinga apparently is fending off a challenge from free agent acquisition Brandon Chillar to remain the strong-side starter, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
- Chicago Bears defensive end Mark Anderson had minor surgery on his thumb but is expected to be ready for the start of the regular season.
- In part because of Anderson's injury, the Bears will continue using defensive tackle Israel Idonije at end.
- Tatum Bell is losing a competition with Kevin Smith for the Detroit Lions' starting tailback job, but Smith told the Detroit News: "I have had a solid camp and hopefully it translates into a good year." (Bell had a lot more to say about former Lions offensive coordinator Mike Martz, which we'll get to in a separate post a bit later).
- Minnesota Vikings rookie linebacker Erin Henderson, the younger brother of Vikings middle linebacker E.J. Henderson, leads the team in preseason tackles (16) and has a good chance to make the 53-man roster, according to the Star Tribune.