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Thursday, May 4, 2006
Packers will be thin at running back in mini-camp

By Len Pasquarelli
ESPN.com

Although he still hasn't decided yet on the workload for Brett Favre, coach Mike McCarthy will at least have his star quarterback available for practices when the Green Bay Packers begin a three-day mini-camp on Friday afternoon.

 Ahman Green
Green

 Najeh Davenport
Davenport

What the rookie head coach won't have, however, are the top two tailbacks on the Packers depth chart.

Still recovering from injuries that limited them to only five games each in 2005, neither Ahman Green nor Najeh Davenport will participate in the mini-camp. Standout left offensive tackle Chad Clifton, who has started 48 consecutive games for the Packers, will also be among the veterans who will sit out the weekend activities, as he continues to rehabilitate from offseason ankle and knee surgeries.

And so the remade Green Bay offense -- with a new head coach, and new coordinator, and facing a shakeup at several positions -- will be without some critical components.

The decision not to have Clifton participate in the on-field practices is more precautionary, and he likely will be close to full speed when McCarthy convenes another three-day mini-camp on May 19. Green is still months away, however, from being fully recovered from the torn right quadriceps tendon that prematurely ended his 2005 campaign. Davenport probably needs at least another month before he is able to test himself after working to rehabilitate from a broken right ankle.

That leaves second-year veteran Sam Gado, the onetime undrafted free agent who led the team in rushing in 2005 with 582 yards and six touchdowns, as the most able-bodied veteran tailback. And even Gado, who is expected to practice, missed the final two games of last season with a knee injury.

Green Bay did not choose a running back among its NFL-high 12 selections in the draft last weekend.

Resurrecting the running game is a key to resuscitating Favre, who is coming off a year in which he threw a league-high 29 interceptions, and an offseason in which he contemplated retirement. McCarthy is seeking a more balanced attack, one in which Favre is not called upon to shoulder so much of the burden, and having Green and Davenport healthy would be a big step forward in that regard.

From a statistical standpoint, the Packers owned the NFL's third-worst rushing offense in 2005, the club's most anemic performance since 1995. McCarthy acknowledged at the annual NFL meetings in March that his team "has to do a lot better than that" in 2006. Green Bay ranked 10th in rushing offense in 2004, third in 2003 and 12th in 2002.

The rehabilitation of Green is critical to how well the Packers rebound on the ground. A workhorse back, Green averaged 1,369.6 yards in his first five seasons in Green Bay, after being acquired from Seattle in a 2000 trade. He rushed for more than 1,100 yards in each of those seasons, went over 1,300 yards twice and set a franchise record with 1,883 yards in 2003.

But Green ran for only 255 yards in five games last season and age may be an increasing factor. Green is 29, will turn 30 in October and is entering his ninth season. The Packers re-signed him just before the start of the free agency period. His one-year contract has a base value of $2 million, and Green can earn up to $3 million more in incentives.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.