Davenport to start for banged up Green

Updated: October 8, 2005, 6:11 PM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

Reserve tailback Najeh Davenport, highly regarded around the league and likely to be a much-pursued player as an unrestricted free agent next spring, will start for Green Bay on Sunday in place of injured Packers star Ahman Green.

Running Back
Green Bay Packers

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2005 SEASON STATISTICS
Rush Yds TD Rec Yds TD
18 51 0 1 1 0

Although Green is officially listed as "questionable," with a bruised right knee and also a strained quadriceps, he has not practiced all week. There is a chance that Green, who has struggled this season along with the Green Bay running attack in general, will not even dress for the game against the visiting New Orleans Saints.

That would leave Davenport, Tony Fisher and newly acquired ReShard Lee, signed this week as a free agent, to handle the tailback spot. The game marks only the second start of Davenport's career.

The Packers, at 0-4 for the first time since 1988, could certainly use from Davenport the kind of boost he provided in his only other regular-season start. The four-year veteran ran for 178 yards on just 19 carries in a 45-17 rout of the St. Louis Rams last Nov. 29. The game offers Davenport, who signed just a one-year contract this spring as a restricted free agent, an opportunity to demonstrate that he has starter-caliber skills.

"Right now, though, I'm more [concerned] with getting a win than with getting myself ready for free agency," insisted Davenport, who has carried 18 times for 51 yards in four outings this year, on Saturday. "That's a long way off and a lot can happen between now and then. My focus is on [the present]."

Davenport, 26, has appeared in 38 games and run for 1,014 yards and five touchdowns on 205 carries. The former University of Miami standout averaged more than five yards per carry in both 2003 and 2004 as Green's backup.

A fourth-round pick in the '02 draft, Davenport is likely to be running behind a makeshift offensive line shuffled because of injuries.

From a unit that was virtually intact the past four seasons, the Packers might have only one starter from the group that played together 2001-2004 in the lineup on Sunday. And that one lineman might be playing out of position, as the Packers have worked with usual right tackle Mark Tauscher on the left side because of an ankle injury to Chad Clifton.

Tauscher had never even practiced at left tackle until Friday, when he made the switch as a contingency in the event Clifton, who was still limping late in the week, can't play.

Green Bay lost both its starting guards from the last four years, Marco Rivera and Mike Wahle, in free agency this spring. Center Mike Flanagan underwent abdominal surgery this week and is sidelined indefinitely. Clifton, who sprained his left ankle on Monday night in the loss at Carolina, is listed as "questionable."

If Clifton cannot play, the plan is to start Tauscher at left tackle and backup Kevin Barry at right tackle. Such a lineup would probably preclude the Packers from using their "U-71" alignment, a favorite running formation which deploys Barry as an extra tight end, at all against the New Orleans defense.

The Packers, who have statistically ranked among the NFL's top rushing teams in each of the last three seasons, currently are rated 28th in the league. The Saints defense currently is No. 30 versus the run.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here Insider.