Packers: It’s 3 for No. 3 running back job


Each player staked his claim with a solid performance in Thursday’s preseason opener against the New England Patriots.

The Green Bay Packers have a battle on their hands for a potential No. 3 running back spot on the roster in a trio that went undrafted.

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Raijon Neal spent the last half of the 2014 season on the practice squad after injuring his knee during the preseason. Alonzo Harris ran for more than 3,300 yards in his career at Louisiana-Lafayette. John Crockett ran for 1,000 yards three times while winning three FCS national championships at North Dakota State.

It’s a hot competition, but no one is mistaking it for a headline-grabbing death struggle.

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“It’s probably the biggest competition in the National Football League right now,” Harris told ESPN Wisconsin … before bursting into laughter.

To gauge the relative importance of the gig, understand that last year’s third-stringer, DuJuan Harris, carried the ball 16 times in 16 games.

Harris had seven carries for 41—including a 25-yard touchdown when three Patriots defenders ran into each other. Crockett carried 10 times for 26 yards and scored on a 10-yard reception. Neal had two catches out of the backfield while picking up 15 yards on four attempts.

“I thought the runners ran well,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “They ran smart. From a decision standpoint—you always start with that—there’s definitely some reads you can coach off of, teach off of. But they ran with body lean and did a good job after contact. I thought the running back group had a good night.”

Special teams will have a “very big bearing” on the outcome for the potential spot on the 53-man roster, according to running backs coach Sam Gash.

Rookie fullback Aaron Ripkowski was drafted to groom as John Kuhn’s successor while also coming in with a reputation as a special-teams heavyweight and there is a chance the Packers could opt to keep two fullbacks and two running backs—Eddie Lacy and James Starks.

“None of us knows what’s going to happen, if we’ll be here tomorrow,” Harris said. “All of us come in and give our hearts, our bodies—our souls, daily. We don’t know what the outcome will be. We have to come in, be prepared for anything and everything and just give it [our] all.”

Crockett is behind in the race, having been placed on the physically unable to perform list for the first week-plus of camp before finally getting clearance on Aug. 7 because of an ankle injury he sustained during minicamp in June.

“It was a long wait. A looooooong wait,” Crockett said. “I was just happy to get back out there. The hard part about it was not being able to run on your ankle or run around for about eight weeks. So I’m still knocking the rust off, still getting back into the swing of things. But at the end of the day, I’m able to be out there, run around and have some fun.”

Neal was just happy to know he could walk off an NFL field and look ahead to a next game. He was injured in the preseason opener at Tennessee last year.

“I got some good feedback from the coaches,” Neal said. “I didn’t really do much, but the little bit that was asked of me, they said I executed well and did what was coached.

“Still have a lot of things I can work on. Some good stepping stones and some good film to study from watching Eddie all the way down. I think it was good and I’m ready to keep the momentum going and continue to be consistent.”

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  • Should the Packers elect to keep only two running backs on the active roster, that would likely leave one and possibly two practice squad spots open for the guys in this competition—a way to keep active in an NFL environment, at the very least.

    Crockett and Harris each based their decisions to sign with Green Bay on the fact that the Packers did not draft a running back. Now they’re just trying to do enough to get noticed and maybe earn one of those coveted spots on the 53-man roster for Week 1 at Chicago.

    “It’s definitely an opportunity for each and every one of us,” Crockett said. “We all know that. We’re all going to push each other. Those guys are two great players and it’s going to be interesting to see how things unfold. It’s going to be a battle. We all know that. It’s just fun to be a part of it.”

    It’s just one of those battles that play out on a practice field and on the field of an NFL stadium in the second half of a preseason game seen as meaningless by many fans.

    I wouldn’t tell any of those three guys that time on the field is meaningless. To them, it couldn’t mean more.

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