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Overlooked Herron could play more prominent role with Packers

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Vernand Morency is the projected starter at running back, and the Green Bay Packers anxiously await his return from a knee injury. Brandon Jackson is the second-round draft pick full of potential.

Somewhere in the background lies third-year player Noah Herron, brimming with quiet confidence despite being somewhat overlooked in the Packers' running back sweepstakes.

Herron might not be the first name that comes to mind when fans think about potential replacements for Ahman Green, but it's worth mentioning that Herron has just as many career 100-yard rushing games as Morency: one.

"I think he's been overlooked by some people, definitely - outside of the locker room," Packers center Scott Wells said. "I think everybody in here knows what he can do, and we all have confidence in him. He's a great guy and a great player. And he's kind of a quiet guy. He steps in when he's given an opportunity, and he usually performs."

Herron is likely to get plenty of chances to prove himself in the Packers' preseason opener at Pittsburgh on Saturday night, with Morency and perhaps two more of the Packers' six running backs sitting out because of injuries.

Morency and backup P.J. Pope are out with knee injuries. Seventh-round rookie DeShawn Wynn hurt his quadriceps in practice on Tuesday night and his availability for Saturday remains unclear. Jackson, Herron and undrafted rookie free agent Corey White are expected to split the majority of the carries on Saturday.

As of Thursday morning, the coaches hadn't told Herron how much he'll play. Offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said the coaches were still working on their rotation.

"We certainly need to get a good look at Brandon Jackson and figure out what he can do," Philbin said. "The way our depth chart looks right now, that's probably not going to be a problem."

Experience tells Herron that the rookies might tire themselves out playing under the lights in the NFL for the first time - and if that means more work for him, all the better.

"The first game, there's so much adrenaline, you're so hyped that you probably won't even think about it," Herron said. "Maybe for the younger guys, they'll get tired because it'll be such a big rush to them and they might hit the wall. At the same time, for us kind of older guys, we'll go out there and play. The more you can play, I think, the better, early on, getting back in that rhythm."

On top of all the other injuries, Herron gave Packers coaches a quick scare during Thursday morning's practice session when he fell to the ground after a clothesline tackle by safety Tyrone Culver.

After spending several minutes on the ground, Herron got up and walked off the field. He later returned to practice. Herron said he just got the wind knocked out of him, and didn't think the hit was a cheap shot.

"He came up and apologized," Herron said. "Not to say he might not get something back, but that's just part of the game, you know? Karma - that's how it works, right?"

Culver said the hit was an accident, and that he was just going for the ball. Herron said he would check the videotape just to make sure.

"The discretion's mine, the eye of the beholder," Herron said.

Herron, who gained 2,524 yards in 45 games at Northwestern, originally was taken by Pittsburgh in the seventh round of the 2005 draft. The Packers signed him off the Steelers' practice squad in 2005.

Herron played well enough to stick around for 2006, then had his breakout game in the Packers' Oct. 8 loss to St. Louis with 20 carries for 106 yards.

Herron hopes his role will increase this year.

"Coach always talks about the roles that have to be filled on this team, and when the season starts, I'll have a different role, maybe than last year - more - and so whatever that is, I'd be willing to do," Herron said.

Herron figures his versatility as a receiver and special teams player only can help him.

"I've been doing everything right now, so whatever they see fit," Herron said. "I think they know I'm capable of filling any role that they ask a running back to fill."

For now, Herron said he doesn't mind flying under the radar.

"I don't worry about that," Herron said. "I've just kind of got to go out there and do what I do - make plays and help this offense get better. The rest will fall into place where it's supposed to."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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