Scrappy’ Sutton fights for Packers roster spot
But the diminutive and undrafted Sutton has been standing out as a running back for the Green Bay Packers in the preseason, making a strong case for a roster spot at a deep position.
“He’s a little scrappy dog,” veteran Packers receiver Donald Driver said.
The 5-foot-8 Sutton, a long shot to make the team when training camp started, has put together two solid games and ranks second in the NFL with 140 yards rushing.
Coach Mike McCarthy, who has been impressed with the former Northwestern star, said Wednesday that Sutton would get some playing time with the first-string offense in the first half when the Packers play Friday at Arizona.
“He’s just been productive,” McCarthy said. “He’s a tough young man, and I want to see him in the game Friday night with the ones.”
After averaging a robust 5.2 yards per carry against second- and third-string defenses in preseason wins over Cleveland and Buffalo, Sutton welcomes the opportunity to run against a front-line defense.
“I’ve got to go out there and seize it,” Sutton said.
Four months after being an afterthought on NFL draft weekend, the shortest guy on the roster is in the thick of a competitive battle at running back.
Several teams were turned off by Sutton before the draft because of his stature and concerns about his speed after he ran a slow time in the 40 at the scouting combine in Indianapolis.
The Packers, though, were quick to sign Sutton after he wasn’t drafted. They liked his production at Northwestern, where Sutton was a four-year starter and left as the Wildcats’ No. 2 all-time rusher with 3,886 yards.
“He has done a nice job,” Packers general manager Ted Thompson said. “People seem to be kind of surprised. He was exactly the same player at Northwestern, and Big Ten football is pretty intense.
“He has done fine. I don’t know that he has exceeded our expectations, though. We thought he would be a pretty good player.”
Sutton has shown to be a quick study.
He had to miss a few weeks of offseason work in late spring as he completed his communications degree at Northwestern, but got caught up with the playbook by the start of training camp, with a little help from fellow running back DeShawn Wynn.
The two young players went over plays and the offensive script when they were back at the dormitory at St. Norbert College in nearby De Pere, the Packers’ quarters for the first three weeks of camp.
“It was just after hours,” Sutton said. “He did a great job with getting me caught up on the ins and outs of the scheme.”
The extra studying paid off for Sutton, who, at 213 pounds, was tough to bring down in the first two preseason games.
He had 16 carries for 91 yards against Cleveland and came back with 11 carries for 49 yards and a touchdown against Buffalo.
“No one expected him to come in and perform the way he did,” Driver said. “Right now, he looks good to me. He’s proven that he can play on this level. If we keep him or if we don’t keep him, he will be playing for somebody.”
Sutton and holdovers Wynn, Brandon Jackson and Kregg Lumpkin are battling for two, possibly three backup spots behind starter Ryan Grant.
While praising Sutton as an instinctive runner, McCarthy said it’s too early to say the rookie has earned a job going into the regular season.
“I just don’t know enough about Sutton,” McCarthy said. “He’s young, he’s raw, he’s done some exciting things. He has a lot in front of him.”
Starting Friday with early exposure in the matchup against the Cardinals, who are expected to have Wells, their first-round draft pick, play for the first time in the preseason after he was sidelined by an ankle injury.
Sutton remains close with Wells, who starred at Ohio State. They played against each other in peewee, high school and college.
One of Sutton’s peewee teammates back in the day in Akron was James.
“I think he was 10, and I was 8,” Sutton recalled. “He was 6-1, I was 4-4 or something like that. As you can see, I haven’t gotten any taller, but he actually shot up.”
Sutton isn’t complaining, and wouldn’t want to trade heights with the 6-8 James.
“My height’s an advantage,” Sutton said. “I can hide behind pretty much anybody out there on the field.”