[img_r]http://cmsimg.greenbaypressgazette.com/apps/pbcsi.dll/bilde?Site=U0&Date=20080826&Category=PKR01&ArtNo=80826172&Ref=AR&Profile=1058&MaxW=150&Border=0[/img_r]Asked point blank whether undrafted rookie Kregg Lumpkin has a legitimate shot at making the Green Bay Packers final roster, running backs coach Edgar Bennett immediately broke into a knowing nod and replied with a simple but emphatic yes.
Lumpkin, the high-school phenom whose career at Georgia short-circuited because of injuries and a quality depth chart, is one of three undrafted rookies in true position to win a spot on the Packers 53-man regular-season roster.
The others are long snapper J.J. Jansen, who is a near lock, and tight end Joey Haynos, who has an outside shot to survive final cuts, which are due at 3 p.m. Saturday.
Lumpkins chances probably fall in between those of Jansen and Haynos. Hes improved throughout camp and is in the running for one or perhaps two final roster spots at halfback, along with Vernand Morency and Noah Herron. All will get a chance to make a final impression on the coaching and scouting staffs in the Packers preseason finale against Tennessee on Thursday night at Lambeau Field.
The top two halfback spots belong to Ryan Grant and Brandon Jackson, so Lumpkins fate in part will depend on whether the Packers keep three halfbacks or four. Bennett will argue hard for four, but extra depth at other positions also will be a factor in that decision. Even if the Packers keep only three halfbacks, Lumpkin has a shot, and is a sure bet for the practice squad if he doesnt make the team.
Hes a young man, a rookie, but the game is not too big for him, Bennett said. I dont see him in certain situations looking like a deer in the headlights. That does not happen with this kid. This kid just jumps in there and plays football.
Lumpkin moved into the running with strong performances in all three exhibition games, albeit against backup defenders. Hes the Packers leading rusher with 28 carries for 126 yards, both team highs, in the preseason.
He averaged 5.1 yards a carry against both Cincinnati and San Francisco in the first two weeks, and though that dropped to 3.5 yards a carry against Denver last week, he still showed improvement. His numbers suffered in part because two of his 11 carries came from the Broncos 1, and his final rush was a 1-yard gain when the Packers were running out the clock with their final three plays. His best run probably was an 8-yarder on second-and-goal from the 9 that set up his 1-yard touchdown plunge two plays later.
The Packers signed the 228-pound Lumpkin despite his relatively thin college resume: He rushed for only 44 yards in six games as a senior at Georgia, and his career high was a relatively light 798 yards as a junior. Those are hardly the numbers of big-time college halfbacks who make it in the NFL.
However, the Packers scouting staff saw a player who coming out of a high school was a top national recruit his final college choices were Georgia, Miami and Texas with NFL size and athletic ability.
Lumpkin, 24, has serious competition for a roster spot, though.
The 28-year-old Morency (5-10, 218) looks like hes regained much of his speed and explosiveness after a patellar tendon injury slowed him all last season. Hes especially strong at blitz pickup in the third-down passing game.
The 26-year-old Herron (5-11, 225) is sound and aware, though he lacks the pure running talent of the other two.
But if Lumpkin runs well and is assignment-sure this week, he has a chance to push the two veterans off the team if the Packers keep three halfbacks, and will have an excellent shot if they keep four.
Kind of intriguing, Joe Philbin, the Packers offensive coordinator, said of Lumpkin. Looks like he has some natural running ability. Pretty good looking guy in pads. Hes been a pretty good fit for this offense, a couple plays where he hit downhill pretty well we thought. Kinda like him.
Lumpkin got lost on Georgias roster last year when a knee injury limited him to six games. Once he returned, he couldnt get back on the field because a freshman phenom, Knowshon Moreno, and a fellow senior, Thomas Brown, played well in his absence. Moreno, who rushed for 1,334 yards and averaged 5.4 yards a carry, is a Heisman Trophy candidate this year. Brown, who ran for 779 yards, was a sixth-round draft pick by Atlanta last April.
The Packers, though, liked Lumpkins chances from the moment they signed him 30 minutes after the draft ended. Though hes not a home-run hitter at halfback, hes well suited for the Packers zone-run scheme. Georgia also ran a zone system that emphasized aiming points and one-cut reads, so his adjustment to the Packers run game was relatively easy.
In some ways, Lumpkin resembles former Packers halfback DeShawn Wynn, the former high-school phenom who had a similarly disappointing career in college at Florida.
The Packers took a flier on Wynns size (238 pounds) and nimble feet by using a seventh-round pick on him in 2007. However, they cut him earlier this week because he couldnt stay healthy or demonstrate the type of professional mentality it takes to succeed in the NFL.
Lumpkin, on the other hand, has demonstrated toughness and a strong desire to succeed from the start.
The No. 1 thing I like about him is his attitude, Bennett said. He plays with a chip on his shoulder. Hes physical, he runs behind his pads. He has burst, quick feet. The kids coming along. You think about Day 1 (of organized team activities) to where hes at now, he continues to get better. When you think about going from the classroom to the practice field to the game field, one thing that stays consistent, he continues to improve. He has to stay on that course, obviously.