GREEN BAY – Alex Green didn’t cry. But the Green Bay Packers second-year running back did find himself getting a little choked up when he set foot on Ray Nitschke Field Thursday for the first practice of training camp.
“I was kind of emotional the first two minutes, when I stepped on the field again. Just the long process that it’s been,” Green said. “(I was) just thankful, for real. Just to be able to play again, get back on the field with my teammates and do what I love and do what I can to provide for my family. It’s something to be proud of. It definitely felt good.”
It had been 277 days since Green tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in an Oct. 23 game at Minnesota, and during that time, he’d done plenty of rehabilitation and conditioning work, but no real football. He’d been running and cutting in the Don Hutson Center for awhile, but the only time he came outside to the practice field was to be an observer.
But not Thursday. While the practice was not in pads, Green participated in both individual drill work and team drills, albeit on a limited basis. He wasn’t sure if he’d be allowed to practice on Saturday, when the team dons full pads for the first time, but having passed his physical on Wednesday morning, he was just thrilled to be back in action.
“Since last October, I haven’t put a helmet on, hadn’t put pads on, hadn’t run on grass. So it definitely felt good to be back out there,” Green said. “I’m definitely blessed to be in the situation I’m in. I just want to take advantage of it.”
With the club having decided against re-signing veteran running back Ryan Grant, the pecking order in the Packers’ backfield is starter James Starks, Green and Brandon Saine. If healthy, Green could be in line for a significant role; the week of his injury, the Packers coaches had installed a package of plays just for him to run against the Vikings. His injury on a kickoff happened before he got to run any of them.
“Alex Green has a lot of ability. Before he got hurt, he was progressing to the point where he probably would have played a fair amount,” said new offensive coordinator Tom Clements, who likes the idea of Green as a receiver as well as a ballcarrier. “He’s a good runner, he’s good out of the backfield – very good hands, good route runner.”
Added quarterback Aaron Rodgers: “It’s great to see Alex out there. It’s fun to have another guy in the backfield to push James and Brandon and some of the young guys we’ve got. We know what kind of a player we have in Alex. It’s just a matter of him staying healthy and making the most of his opportunities. I think what you saw last year was a guy who started a little slow in camp, but really picked it up and everybody got real excited about him. And then he had the injury early in the season. So if he can stay healthy, I think he can be a good part of our offense.”
To understand how difficult the last nine months have been for Green, consider this: A mentally and emotionally tough guy who overcame dyslexia, lived in his car in a Walmart parking lot for two months while going to junior college because he was broke and suffered a horrible case of homesickness while at the University of Hawaii because he missed his young daughter.
And after all that, here’s what he said about his comeback: “It was definitely a big challenge, one of the tougher challenges I’ve faced in my life, and I’ve faced some pretty good challenges. This was probably, I would say, the most challenging challenge. Mentally, physically, things like that – just getting back to doing things I love and trying to stay positive and not think too much about, ‘OK, I’m hurt.’ Just thinking about doing what I’ve been doing all my life and just keep doing it.”
While some players almost immediately set the opening day of training camp as their goal to return from a season-ending injury the previous year, Green said he took a more realistic approach.
“That was definitely my goal. (But) I didn’t set that goal until maybe March,” Green said. “Obviously when I first had surgery, my goal was to get my range back, be able to walk without crutches, things like that. Just taking it a day at a time, a month at a time. As I got closer, I set my goals a little higher, to get back for training camp, get things rolling again.”
Green said he expects to be kept on a limited snap count for the foreseeable future, but as long as he’s getting work, he’s OK with that.
“I’m a little limited right now. but I’m definitely feeling good – as good as I’ve felt in awhile,” he said. “I have some limitations as far as how many reps I get in team (periods) and things like that, but for the most part, I’m doing all the individual drills, things are looking smooth so far. I’m just taking it day-by-day.”
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