Packers RB Brandon Jackson hopes for more carries
Fourteen weeks after he first thought he'd take over as the Green Bay Packers' go-to back, Jackson finally got 22 carries Sunday night at New England. Maybe this time it will be the beginning of a trend.
Jackson was given the starting job in 2007 as a rookie second-round draft pick, only to hurt his shin in his third start and watch as Ryan Grant emerged as the featured back. Jackson had been waiting three years to get another chance to be the guy.
When Grant's season ended with an ankle injury in the opener at Philadelphia, this was it.
But while Jackson got 18 carries (for 63 yards) in relief of Grant against the Eagles, it wasn't until Sunday night that Jackson had 20 carries in a game, rushing for 99 yards in the Packers' 31-27 loss to the Patriots.
The coaches had experimented with using fullback John Kuhn as the featured back, test-drove Dimitri Nance and even gave rookie James Starks an opportunity to prove he could be the go-to guy.
Asked if his faith had been tried while he waited for a game like Sunday's, Jackson nodded.
"Oh, it was. It was like, 'OK, I'm the guy. ... Where are the carries?'" Jackson said. "But it was never to the point where I was going after coaches: 'Why are you not giving me the ball?' It was just, 'Continue to wait for that opportunity, because we are a pass team first, then run.' So it wasn't too much about being frustrated, it was just waiting on that opportunity to get the carries that I wanted."
Before this year, the 5-foot-10, 216-pound Jackson had never carried the ball more than 75 times in a season. He believed he could handle a 20-carry load week in and week out. But coaches weren't so sure after seeing Jackson miss five games in 2007, three in 2008 and four last year due to injury.
"I think one of our thoughts was, (Grant's injury) happened so fast. I don't know if a guy goes from (37) carries in '09, do you go from that type of player to giving him 320 or 350 in a season?" offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. "I don't know about that. You never say never, but we all know he's certainly not the biggest back in the league. With the wear and tear on running backs, I don't know. But I certainly wouldn't rule it out."
With starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers cleared to return after his second concussion of the season, coach Mike McCarthy could return to his pass-first play-calling. Then again, with the Giants' formidable front four, running the ball could effectively slow down the pass rush this week.
"Obviously it feels good. After the game, I was a little exhausted. I was wondering how many carries I got, and when I saw the stat sheet, I was like, 'Oh, OK, that's why,'" Jackson said. "It felt good to get those carries. The rhythm was just, it was perfect. I saw every hole, the reads were there, and I just felt so comfortable. That's the type of groove, the rhythm I like to be in.
"My thing is, I want to show the coaches that I am consistent, and if you do give me the ball 20-plus times, I can carry this run game."
NOTES: With starting right outside linebacker Frank Zombo (knee) listed as doubtful and backups Erik Walden (bruised quadriceps) and Diyral Briggs (ankle) listed as questionable, the Packers could be down to Robert Francois as the starter opposite Clay Matthews. Walden, who started for Zombo against New England, expressed confidence that he would play, but McCarthy was uncertain. "The outside linebacker position, really the next 48 hours is important," McCarthy said. ... Safety Nick Collins (ribs) is questionable, but Collins has missed only three games during his six-year NFL career and figures to play. "If I feel like I'm able to play, I'm going to play," Collins said. "I'm just a competitor. I love this game and I love what I do." McCarthy extended meetings slightly Friday and pushed all the usual Saturday morning meetings into Saturday night to accommodate his players' Christmas plans.