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Packers eager to work Lacy, Franklin into offense

The SportsXchange

Since the establishment of the seven-round format in the NFL Draft in 1994, the Green Bay Packers had taken only three running backs in the first three rounds and not once chosen two backs in the opening four rounds in any year.

So much for staying on script in this year's draft.

When Green Bay welcomes its big batch of newcomers next week for a rookie orientation camp, which runs May 10-12, the arrival of Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin will mark an overdue change in direction for the Packers offense.

"We haven't been satisfied," said second-year running backs coach Alex Van Pelt, lamenting the near absence of production on the ground last season. "We need to get better in that area. Whether it be scheme, technique, players adjust (or) adapt to whatever we do, we had to improve in the run game, and that was addressed."

Not that Green Bay puts much emphasis on its rushing attack with Aaron Rodgers at the controls of a prolific aerial assault. Yet, being among the league's bottom feeders with a paltry average of 3.9 yards per carry and having its season-leading rusher (Alex Green) at less than 500 yards (464) gave Green Bay's decision makers plenty of persuasion to get greedy in the draft.

The Packers wound up getting what several draftniks felt were the top two backs in this year's rookie class, and did so by having Lacy and Franklin fall to them.

"The reality of it is we've helped our football team," offensive-minded head coach Mike McCarthy said.

Lacy, the power runner from national champion Alabama, went from being a popular No. 1 choice for the backs in pre-draft assessments to lasting until near the end of the second round, where the Packers moved back and gladly took him at No. 61 overall.

Three other backs were taken before Lacy, whose stock apparently took a hit because of concerns with his durability. At least two teams - Denver and Pittsburgh - reportedly were turned off by Lacy because of his medical history.

He underwent fusion surgery for an injured big toe last spring. After getting through his final season of college football unscathed, a strained hamstring flared up earlier this year that made Lacy unavailable to work out for scouts until two weeks before the draft.

John Elway, Denver's executive vice president of football operations, didn't mince words about why the Broncos chose Wisconsin running back Montee Ball over Lacy three picks before the Packers' turn in Round 2.

"The bottom line was that we looked at the medical (information)," Elway said. "It really came down to the medical side, and that's what tilted the scales to Montee.

"They are both great backs, both very productive backs. (But) when we looked at the medical and going through our medical staff, we just felt that Montee was a better choice for us at that spot."

Lacy picked up with his workouts back in Alabama last weekend and declared, "As of right now, I'm 100 percent," an indication he should be able to participate in the rookie camp.

Nevertheless, the Packers protected themselves with the selection of Franklin in the fourth round.

Green Bay general manager Ted Thompson traded up to get UCLA's all-time leading rusher, who surprisingly still was on the board at No. 125 at the outset of the third day of the draft.

"I've watched Ted Thompson enough times in the draft room that when he goes up it's going up for something and it's really good, and that was definitely the case," McCarthy said. "(A) very dynamic player. I'm excited to work with him. Just the little time I had to talk with him on the phone (after the pick was made), I think he's going to be an excellent fit for us."

The quick and elusive Franklin is well capable of becoming the Packers' featured back as a rookie. At the least, he can provide the situational punch if Lacy is able to pound away on the early downs.

As for the three incumbent backs on the roster - Green, DuJuan Harris and James Starks - they'll likely be in a fight the next few months to keep their jobs.

"It's going to obviously increase the competition in the (position) room, which is always a great thing," Van Pelt said. "It'll be interesting, it'll sort itself out as we go through the OTAs (organized team activities) and training camp. But, it made that room better, and not just by the two players we added but by the competition that it'll create for other guys that are in that room."

--Starting cornerback Sam Shields remains unsigned, one of only four restricted free agents in the league who aren't under contract this spring.

Shields, who flourished at the end of last season with four interceptions in six games after returning from a severe ankle injury, received a second-round tender of $2.023 million. No other team made an offer to him by the April 19 deadline, leaving it up to the Packers to sign Shields to the one-year qualifying offer or a long-term contract.

Talks apparently have been taking place between both sides to work out a new contract.

If Shields isn't signed by June 14, the Packers can withdraw the qualifying offer and replace it with a one-year contract worth 110 percent of his 2012 salary, which was $542,500.

New York Giants receiver Victor Cruz and Baltimore Ravens tight ends Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson are the other unsigned restricted free agents.

--The Packers finalized their schedule of on-field offseason workouts, which will start with a rookie orientation camp May 10-12.

Organized team activities will be held on a maximum 10 days from May 20 to June 14, intermixed with the mandatory minicamp June 4-6.

Players will report to training camp July 25 with the first practice the next day.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I love the game of football, and I just love the ball in my hands. If you want me to run the ball inside, I'll do that. If you want me to run outside, so be it." - Rookie running back Johnathan Franklin, a fourth-round draft pick from UCLA, on his running style.
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