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McCarthy, Packers could be thin at running back

Sep 20, 2013 -- 12:32am
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Mike McCarthy doesn't want a rerun of the team's 2011 game in Kansas City on Sunday in Cincinnati.

GREEN BAY – When Mike McCarthy found himself with only two active running backs on game day two years ago – halfback Ryan Grant and fullback John Kuhn in what would turn out to be the end of his team’s run at perfection – the Green Bay Packers coach vowed he’d never get himself in that situation again.

Don’t look now, but if Eddie Lacy isn’t cleared to practice Friday and misses Sunday’s game at Cincinnati with the concussion he sustained last week against Washington, the Packers could very well face the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium with only James Starks and rookie Johnathan Franklin active.

“I’m prepared, that’s my job,” McCarthy said Thursday after both Lacy and Kuhn (hamstring) sat out practice. “The preference is not to go into the game with two running backs. I did that one time in Kansas City, learned a hard lesson, especially when one of them was nicked going into that game. It hurt us in the second half. We’ll be much better prepared than we were two years ago in Kansas City.”

Against the Chiefs, Grant suffered bruised ribs, and because he was worried about being completely devoid of running backs if things got worse, McCarthy went away from running the ball despite Grant being productive (12 carries, 66 yards) and the Packers holding a 7-6 third-quarter lead against the offensively-challenged Chiefs.

That was also the game in which both Bryan Bulaga and then-rookie first-round pick Derek Sherrod suffered injuries, leaving the Packers thin on the offensive line, too.

It got so bad that McCarthy used wide receiver Randall Cobb on a few running plays, even though the wide receiver and ex-college quarterback wasn’t built for the pounding true halfbacks take.

“We were in a tough game. we had two injuries to our offensive line, they’re challenging us on the perimeter and getting after us in the pass rush. It was time to run the football, and we came out in the third quarter and established it,” McCarthy recalled. “Grant had bruised ribs at the time, so he missed a series or two in the third quarter, so we were really down to one back (Kuhn) there for half of the second half. We had a couple things in there for Randall, but they went to an eight-man front, they adjusted well.

“That’s what game planning is for, you try to stay away from being one player out of a personnel group, particularly when it’s a primary focus.”

The Packers do have one running back, Michael Hill, on their practice squad, although the rookie from Missouri Western likely isn’t ready for an NFL regular-season game.

“He’s getting better. I’m impressed with him,” McCarthy said. “I liked him from the first day. (General manager) Ted (Thompson) and I were talking about him today. He’s doing a good job.”

One thing McCarthy won’t do if something happens to Starks and Franklin: Subject Cobb to more than a carry or two.

“I don’t want to make a living running the ball with Randall Cobb. Let’s be honest,” McCarthy said. “Randall’s a dynamic player, but he doesn’t need to be lining up behind the center carrying the ball 20 times. That’s not the plan.”

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