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Packers rookie running backs gaining ground

By GENARO C. ARMAS

AP Sports Writer

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) There is a tasty reward for Green Bay Packers offensive linemen when one of their running backs has a big day on the ground.

Center Corey Linsley is looking forward to the big plate of ribs after rookie Jamaal Williams ran for 113 yards and a touchdown last week against Tampa Bay .

The Packers (6-6) hope that's just the appetizer for the offense with quarterback Aaron Rodgers potentially returning soon to spice up the passing attack.

"Yeah, it can only be better. There's no way that it cannot benefit us," Linsley said after practice Thursday.

It has been a rough 2-5 stretch with the two-time NFL MVP sidelined by a collarbone injury.

But Rodgers is back at practice, albeit on a trial basis, as the coaching staff proceeds cautiously with the franchise quarterback.

Teammates say he looks good. Rodgers has been practicing with the scout team this week, behind temporary starter Brett Hundley and backup Joe Callahan. It's possible that Rodgers could return as soon as the Dec. 17 game at Carolina.

"Number 1, the competitive level, that's always an obvious when he steps on the field because he just brings the whole level of competition up and the energy that he brings to the practice field, so that's the first thing that jumps out at you," coach Mike McCarthy said.

Whenever he does come back, Rodgers could have a running game that appears to be getting in gear, just in time for the December cold, too.

Williams has 458 yards (303 rushing, 155 receiving) and four touchdowns since replacing the injured Aaron Jones and Ty Montgomery on Nov. 12 against Chicago.

Williams had one score each as a receiver and rusher two weeks ago in a 31-28 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The rookie's 21-carry performance last week against the Buccaneers earned him the weekly honor from the league as top running back.

"We love when our running backs win FedEx Ground Player of the Week and then you get a bunch of ribs, so that's another good perk," Linsley said.

His smile broadened when informed that Williams was this week's winner.

"Did he really? All right - get some more ribs," said Linsley, a 6-foot-3, 301-pound center.

Green Bay ran for a season-high 199 yards against Tampa Bay, which included the 20-yard touchdown run in overtime from Jones in his first game back from his knee injury.

Also helping the run game is recent stability on an offensive line that was decimated by injuries earlier this season.

The Packers should have the same starting five up front for the third straight week when they play the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, the first time that has happened all season.

"It's been obviously an injury-plagued year for the O-line," right guard Lane Taylor said. "I think we're all talented, but to have one cohesive unit, week in and week out, you get that familiarity with the guy next to you."

It's important because trust and communication are so important. On combination blocks for instance, a lineman has to trust that his teammate will take over the blocking on a defender when he moves on to his next assignment.

The Packers will be challenged this week with a Browns defense that holds opponents to 3.3 yards per carry, the stingiest mark in the league. Cleveland is sixth overall in run defense (96.9 yards per game).

"You have to communicate on the same play," Taylor said, "and once you can do all that without thinking about it, that's when you really start playing well."

NOTES: CB Davon House (shoulder) and Demetri Goodson (hamstring), along with OLB Nick Perry (foot/shoulder) each missed a second straight day of practice. Thursday is typically the longest and most important practice day of the Packers work week. ... ILB Jake Ryan (neck/illness) returned to practice as a full participant. Backup OLB Ahmad Brooks (back) also was a full participant after being limited on Wednesday.

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Updated December 7, 2017

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