In Jake Kumerow the Packers trust: ‘No faking it in this game’

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Jake Kumerow is no longer just a fun little training camp story that will be forgotten when the football becomes real in a few weeks.

The 26-year-old from the small Wisconsin school, who’s still waiting to play in his first real NFL game, is here to stay if you ask some veterans in the Green Bay Packers’ locker room.

It’s not just that they’ve seen Kumerow perform in the first two preseason games — he leads the NFL with 190 yards receiving and is tied for the lead with two 40-plus yard pass plays. It runs deeper than the 82-yard catch-and-run touchdown he had Thursday as part of his three-catch, 114-yard game in Thursday’s 51-34 exhibition win over the Steelers at Lambeau Field.

“One of the talks of camp in my opinion,” veteran cornerback Tramon Williams said after the game. “He’s been doing it all camp long. It’s not like he’s just showing up and having fluke games. He’s been doing it all camp long. To see a guy come in like that and work hard, you don’t know his name Day 1. But day after day after day, you’re like ‘Oh man this guy’s pretty good.’ So you start taking notice of him and that’s what you want to see out of guys. And I think Aaron [Rodgers] expressed how much that he’s appreciated the way the guy came in and worked, and that’s the ultimate compliment.”

Rodgers took an immediate liking to the 6-foot-4, long-haired receiver with a significant NFL lineage (his father, Eric, was a former first-round pick and his first cousin is Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa) and that hasn’t waned. Though Rodgers hasn’t played with him in a game yet — his only preseason action to date was the opening series against the Steelers that ended with a touchdown pass to new tight end Jimmy Graham — he continued to toss praise his way.

“From the first time he got here, it’s never been too big for him,” Rodgers said Thursday night. “He continues to make plays, and that’s how you make the squad, you ball out on game day and you do things on special teams when you’re a fringe guy and you give yourself an opportunity, not just for this squad, but for any team watching [number] 16 on film.”

Kumerow, who was signed to the Packers’ practice squad late last season, has been a three-time loser coming out of training camp. He was a camp cut by the Bengals in both 2015 and 2016 and then was an injury casualty last summer when he hurt his ankle.

The Packers drafted three receivers but at this point, Kumerow has to be ahead of all of them. Fourth-round pick J’Mon Moore has had all kinds of trouble catching the ball. Fifth-rounder Marquez Valdes-Scantling and sixth-rounder Equanimeous St. Brown didn’t back up their Week 1 performances with anything significant; each had one catch against the Steelers.

“He’s one of our top receivers in the room,” safety Ha Clinton-Dix said of Kumerow. “You see it. There’s no faking it in this game. It’s not Aaron throwing him the ball. It’s 7 [Brett Hundley] and 9 [DeShone Kizer] and 8 [Tim Boyle]. He’s doing it with young quarterbacks. Imagine when he gets in there with 12 [Rodgers] what he has a chance to do.”

Kumerow quickly became something of a folk hero around Packers’ camp; his in-state ties — he played at Division III UW-Whitewater — made him an immediate favorite. But he might be more than a Jeff Janis — a small-school receiver who was cult hero to fans but couldn’t win over the coaches or his quarterback.

When Kumerow dove into the north end zone at the end of his touchdown catch and it was announced that he was being treated for a shoulder injury — it turned out to be a stinger, he said — his name began to trend on Twitter. On a night with myriad storylines — Rodgers’ first touchdown to Graham, pick-6s for Williams and rookie cornerback Josh Jackson plus Reggie Gilbert’s 2.5 sacks — it was Kumerow who may have stolen the show once again.

“I don’t really try to pay attention,” Kumerow said of the increased attention. “I just try to keep my head down and make a lot of plays. But I do hear a lot more ‘Go Warhawks’ when I’m walking to practice. I like to hear that.”

Photo: Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY Sports

1,000 (yards) just a number to Packers’ Davante Adams

Rob Demovsky, ESPN Staff Writer

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Davante Adams will never forget the time Aaron Rodgers essentially kicked him off the field.

He can smile about it now — now that he’s Rodgers’ favorite target. But at the time during Adams’ rookie year, a few weeks into the 2014 season, it served as a wake-up call. As Adams remembered it, he either ran the wrong route or failed to adjust his route properly and Rodgers signaled toward the Packers’ bench to take Adams off the field.

“Yeah, pretty much that was his thought,” Adams said this week.

And Adams can admit now, he didn’t blame Rodgers.

“I never took anything [personal] since I’ve been here,” Adams said. “Because at the end of the day all you’ve got to do is look at what he’s accomplished and the level he plays and carries himself, it just makes you think, ‘OK, he just wants me to be on the same level or close to that.'”

That’s where Adams stands now — as Rodgers’ No. 1 receiver and as one of the NFL’s top players.

No one in the league has more touchdown catches than Adams’ 22 over the past two seasons combined. Not Antonio Brown (with 21). Not Jordy Nelson (20). Not DeAndre Hopkins or Mike Evans (17 each).

The missing 3 yards
The only thing Adams hasn’t done from a statistical standpoint is post a 1,000-yard season. He came up 3 yards short in 2016 and probably would have reached that mark last season if not for getting knocked out twice by illegal hits that led to concussion. He had 885 yards and 10 touchdowns in 14 games last year but did not play the last two weeks after Carolina’s Thomas Davis knocked him out. Adams actually cleared the concussion protocol in the same day (Dec. 29) he signed his five-year, $58 million contract but the Packers held him out of what was a meaningless regular-season finale.

That 1,000-yard mark, however, is not what drives Adams.

“If we want to make a list of 1,000-yard receivers, we could make a list of those, not who’s the best,” Adams said. “Plus it’s just ridiculous because I had 997, so what are we talking about?”

There’s another list Adams believes he should be on.

“Top-five, top-10 receivers and things like that,” Adams said. “My name comes up in some of those conversations, but it’s not unanimous.

“I still don’t have the big-picture respect that I feel like I deserve, but at the same time that’s the fuel that continues to drive me so it’s not like it’s really an issue that I’m not being recognized. But that’s what keeps me going.”

The fork in his road
Inconsistency marked Adams’ rookie season.

He caught 38 passes for 446 yards and three touchdowns, numbers not unlike (and in some cases better than) what Nelson, Randall Cobb, Greg Jennings and James Jones put up as Packers rookies.

The following spring, coach Mike McCarthy dubbed Adams as the Packers’ “MVP of the offseason.” That didn’t translate to the 2015 regular season, perhaps in part because of an early-season ankle injury that inhibited Adams’ ability to do what he does best — beat cornerbacks off the line of scrimmage. And it came at a time when the Packers needed him after Nelson’s preseason ACL tear.

Adams faced questions about whether big games from his rookie year — the six catches for 121 yards against the Patriots and the seven catches for 117 yards and a touchdown in the playoff win over the Cowboys — were flukes. And fans jeered him during the injury-filled 2015 season when he caught 50 passes for just 483 yards and one touchdown.

“It’s the adversity he went through that makes him so great,” Packers left tackle David Bakhtiari said. “I’ve commended him from when he had his s–t that he went through, there was a fork in the road. He could have went one of two ways. He could’ve been a s–tbird — just a talent who couldn’t pick it up — or he could go the other direction. And he decided, ‘I’m not going to let you guys or anyone else write my story.'”

When Adams was presented with that quote as he stood in the corner of the Packers’ locker room, just a few steps from where Bakhtiari changes, he didn’t hesitate when asked for a reply.

“I feel like you guys have asked it in different ways but at the end of the day it was never a matter of me not being a good player or I slacked off in the offseason and came in bulls—ting or something like that,” Adams said. “I didn’t play the way I wanted to based on an injury, but during the season I’m not going to say that. People don’t care. But when you have a lingering ankle all year and then you tear your ACL in the playoff when it’s my coming out (party) — which was a late coming out game, I admit — but those are the things right there.”

However his early years are viewed, all that matters now is what his quarterback thinks of him.

“You can kind of tell right away with Davante that he was going to be a player,” Rodgers said. “It was just a matter of that first year and opportunities. The thing that I said then, as I recall, was his attitude was the same in the weeks where he’d only get one or two targets as in the weeks where he had big games, like against New England, like in the Cowboys playoff game. His attitude stayed the same the entire time.

“Now in Years 2 and 3 he was injured a decent amount and didn’t have — especially in ’15 — the numbers that he would have wanted to have. But you cannot teach natural confidence and swag like that. And when you see it, you realize if the guy ever figures it out, he can be a big-time player. And obviously Davante figured it out and has a great attitude, and he’s been a great player for us.”

Photo: Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports

Rookie Jaire Alexander sees game through the eyes of a veteran

Rob Demovsky, ESPN Staff Writer

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Jaire Alexander doesn’t like to sit still. That much has become evident in the first-round pick’s short tenure with the Green Bay Packers.

So imagine how difficult it was for the energetic young cornerback to have to watch last week’s preseason opener from the sideline while he nursed a groin injury.

That’s where a veteran like Davon House proved invaluable.

The eighth-year veteran played just 10 snaps against the Tennessee Titans and when his night’s work was done on the field, he went to work on the sideline. House stood at Alexander’s side often, helping the rookie see the game through the eyes of a veteran.

“I learned a bunch,” Alexander said. “Got to experience what a game is like — just trying to pay attention to the calls and the formations. See what the offense likes to run, and things like that. There were a lot of moving parts for me, so I was really concentrating on getting the play call and try to see myself in those positions.”

It left Alexander with an interesting conclusion.

“He says he can tell that the game isn’t as hard as everyone says it is — from watching it live,” House said. “Jaire isn’t a regular rookie. He’s kind of already in the flow of things.”

That may come across as cocky and perhaps even foolhardy; then again Alexander was the one who earlier in camp picked off Aaron Rodgers and started to call it a confidence builder only to stop himself and admit he has “plenty of that.”

It also could rub a veteran player the wrong way, but House said that’s not the case with Alexander.

“Everyone likes him; very likeable kid,” House said. “He’s eager, very coachable. We feed off of him. The energy he brings to the locker room, to the field when he makes plays, it’s always positive.”

There’s some merit to Alexander’s stance about the difficulty of the game, especially considering what he’s used to in practice.

“It is hard, but it isn’t as hard as what we’re going against in practice,” House said. “You’re going against A-Rod, Davante (Adams), Jimmy Graham, and then you see other teams and it’s not even close to what we go through in practice, which makes it easier.”

At some point, perhaps as soon as Thursday’s second preseason game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Alexander will get his chance to show just how easy the game comes to him. He returned to practice in a limited capacity on Sunday but couldn’t guarantee he would play against Pittsburgh.

Until he does, expect him to be at the side of House or one of the other veterans.

“That’s something we’ve always promoted,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “It makes you proud, but that’s something our guys do a really good job of. … Our younger players closing that gap with the veteran players is vital to the success of our football team and getting ready for [Week 1 against] Chicago, and our guys do a great job of that.”

Photo: Larry Radloff/Icon Sportswire

Bennett: Rodgers has arm talent, Brady easier to play with

Mike Reiss, ESPN Staff Writer

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Tom Brady is the reigning NFL Most Valuable Player, and in the eyes of former NFL tight end Martellus Bennett, he is deserving of another distinction: the easiest quarterback to play with.

Bennett, who finished his 10-year playing career in 2017 catching passes from Aaron Rodgers and Brady, compared the two in an appearance on “The Doug Gottlieb Show” on Wednesday.

“I think that no one has more arm talent than Aaron,” Bennett said on the program. “Aaron can do pretty much anything with the ball. I feel like Tom is really precise, easier to play with. I’d say [it was] easier to play with Tom than anybody else.

“He just makes the game easy, like what he expects, where he wants you to be, and where he’s putting the ball. It’s just repetition. He does so many repetitions with you, whether it’s mental reps, physical reps, or walk-through, he’s always letting you know. He communicates the best of what he expects.

Ken Blaze/USA TODAY Sports

“The communication between him and the receiver is probably on the highest level of what you like to do, what he likes to throw. If he sees something, if you ask him to do something, he’ll try it, and he’s like, ‘Oh yeah, let’s go with that.'”

Bennett, 31, played for the Dallas Cowboys (2008 to 2011), New York Giants(2012), Chicago Bears (2013 to 2015), Patriots (2016, 2017) and Packers (2017).

In 16 regular-season games with the Patriots in 2016, he caught 55 passes for 701 yards and seven touchdowns.

In 2017, Bennett played in seven games for the Packers and had 24 catches for 233 yards and no touchdowns before he was waived with a shoulder injury.

In his interview with Gottlieb, he deflected a question on who was the best quarterback he’s played with, but he said his time in New England stood out in one regard.

“I had the most fun in my NFL career playing for the Patriots … because they didn’t worry about anything else but football,” said Bennett, who is now focused on a career as a children’s author. “In some of the other workplaces, they worry about how you dress, what you look like, all this other stuff. You come to work to play football, the only thing coaches should be talking to you about is football. Everything else is ridiculous.”

Greek Freak to be on cover of ‘NBA 2K19’

Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo is the cover athlete for the “NBA 2K19” standard-edition video game.

The two-time NBA All-Star known as the “Greek Freak” is the first international player to be featured on the cover.

Antetokounmpo said he has “worked hard to earn recognition in the NBA and being on the cover of NBA 2K19 is a dream come true.”

He also tweeted that he was “honored” to be the first international player to be on the video game’s cover.

“NBA 2K19” will be available Sept. 11.

LeBron James was previously announced as the cover star for the “NBA 2K19” 20th anniversary edition, which will be available on Sept. 7.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Aaron Rodgers not the only ‘most important’ player for Packers

Rob Demovsky, ESPN Staff Writer

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Here are the five players who can help make the Green Bay Packers playoff contenders this season:

Aaron Rodgers, QB: Just turn on the film of Brett Hundley last season, and you’ll know why Rodgers is the most important player in the NFL. The Packers are built around the quarterback; coach Mike McCarthy has never shied away from that idea. If the quarterback can’t operate the offense the way it needs to be run, then the Packers have no chance. It’s nearly impossible to build a team with both a franchise quarterback and a dominant defense in the salary-cap era. The Packers have never had both during McCarthy’s tenure, and though efforts have been made to upgrade the other side of the ball, this is a quarterback-driven team.

Davante Adams, WR: Midway through last season, opposing defenses began to view Adams as the Packers’ No. 1 receiver. Now that Jordy Nelson is gone, there’s no doubt about that. Plus, the Packers are no longer deep at the position. Behind Adams and Randall Cobb are a slew of unproven receivers. Adams’ concussion history — he had two last season and another in 2016 — could be worrisome. But the Packers paid Adams like a top-tier receiver ($14.5 million per season), and their offense would take a huge hit without him.

David Bakhtiari, LT: Protecting Rodgers is of the utmost importance, and Bakhtiari is one of the league’s premier left tackles. A two-time, second-team All Pro, Bakhtiari’s absence was felt when he missed four straight games early last season because of a hamstring injury. With right tackle Bryan Bulaga (knee) unlikely to be ready for the season opener, Bakhtiari’s presence this year could be even more important.

Clay Matthews, OLB: There’s even more pressure on Matthews — and fellow outside linebacker Nick Perry — this season, given that new GM Brian Gutekunst didn’t sign an outside pass-rusher in free agency and waited until the seventh round of the draft to pick one. Although Matthews’ sack totals have dropped — he hasn’t posted a double-digit sack season since 2014 — he’s still the player most opposing offenses have to game plan around given his versatility.

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S: With the departure of Morgan Burnett, who signed with the Steelers in free agency, Clinton-Dix should become the captain of the secondary. Although his big plays dropped off last season — whose didn’t on the Packers’ scuffling defense? — he has the most big-play potential. He’s only a year removed from his five-interception, one-forced-fumble season of 2016. The former first-round pick also is in a contract year.

The Randall Cobb debate: Old 27 or young eighth-year veteran?

Rob Demovsky, ESPN Staff Writer

GREEN BAY, Wis. — There are a couple of ways of looking at Randall Cobb:

He’s an old 27 given the toll that 107 career NFL games, including playoffs, have taken on his body.

Or even though he’s entering his eighth NFL season, he’s not yet 28 years old.

This season could dictate how the Green Bay Packers receiver is viewed and what it means for his future with the team that picked him in the second round of the 2011 draft.

It’s a pivotal spot not only because he’s in the final season of a four-year, $40 million contract, but given the opportunities he should have after the Packers cut receiver Jordy Nelson this offseason. Some thought the Packers might dump Cobb and keep Nelson. Instead, the receiving corps consists of Cobb, Davante AdamsGeronimo Allison and a host of young, unproven players, including three draft picks.

A monster 2014 season — with 91 catches, 1,287 yards and 12 touchdowns — created expectations that Cobb has not matched in part because of nagging injuries. He’s missed only four games combined the past two seasons, but he’s also played hurt throughout. That’s to his credit, although his production has slipped. Yet at times, there have been moments of brilliance; he caught three touchdowns in the 2016 playoff win over the Giants after he missed the last two weeks of the regular season because of an ankle injury. Cobb is again dealing with an ankle injury that could sideline him for the beginning of training camp, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

“When he’s healthy and playing for us, our offense is a lot different,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said this offseason. “I think we saw it a couple of years ago against the Giants when he came off some injuries and a disappointing season filled with multiple injuries, he had three touchdowns. Obviously one was the Hail Mary, but he had two other really nice plays for us in a big game. That’s what he can do for us when he’s out there.

“Tough guy to cover. He really understands coverages and route concepts and soft spots in zone — stuff you just can’t really teach. And he’s so multidimensional. We can obviously put him at punt returner, we can split him out, we can put him the backfield and give him the rock.”

Whether he likes it or not, Cobb is the old man in the receiver room. He’s no longer the highest paid; Adams’ four-year, $58 million extension late last season took care of that. But Cobb has the potential to give the Packers a difficult matchup in the slot for defenses to deal with. The 5-foot-10 former college quarterback has 432 career receptions in the regular season, and 337 of them have come from the slot, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Even with the addition of a dynamic pass-catching tight end in Jimmy Graham, Cobb could have a significant role in the offense.

“He’s got a lot left,” Adams said. “He’s an incredible athlete, he’s still got the burners and he has a lot to offer for the young guys as well. You go out there and you watch how he gets down on the field; he’s consistent and he’s one of the best, one of the hardest-working guys in the game and in practice and things like that. It makes it easy for the young guys to pick up on that.”

Bob Donnan/USA TODAY Sports

In some ways, Cobb has always been mature beyond his years. He was 20 when the Packers drafted him, and in his NFL debut he returned a kickoff 108 yards for a touchdown against the Saints. On that night, he became the first player born in the 1990s to play in an NFL game.

“When I came in, I thought about him like he was 10 years in,” said Adams, who joined the Packers in 2014, Cobb’s fourth year. “It’s funny, because when [Allison] came in [in 2016] he said the same thing about me. He felt like I was an old guy. And I still don’t feel like an old guy now. So now, when they come in, I let them know — I’m right there with you. I’m not that old just yet.”

So how does Cobb feel?

“Do I feel like the old man in the room?” he said. “I feel like I’m still young, but they’re looking at me like I’m old, so I guess I must be.”

Not so fast, according to Cobb’s new receivers coach, David Raih.

“This business is funny, like 27 years old all of a sudden you’re old,” Raih said. “I just think there’s a lot of football left in Randall Cobb, and especially now this guy is one of the most tenacious people I’ve been around — and I’m talking about all the time. His story, too, I mean his entire life he’s heard something along those lines.

“And that’s just something that fuels his fire. He and I come in and we just have a business approach together, and I think it meshes well. I’m excited about Randall because every single day, every rep you can see him trying to use what he’s learning and what we’re talking about to improve his game, and he’s got the type of approach that will get results.”

By the time his eighth NFL season opens on Sept. 9 against the Bears, Cobb will be 28; his birthday is Aug. 22.

Just don’t tell that to his quarterback, who tried to settle the young/old issue.

“He’s done a number of things for us over the years, and still he’s relatively young,” Rodgers said. “First player born in the 1990s, so he’s not even 28 yet. He’s obviously a great friend of mine, but I look for a resurgence from him this year as long as he can stay healthy.”

Real or not? The Brewers need to trade for Jacob deGrom

David Schoenfield
ESPN Senior Writer

The Milwaukee Brewers should go all-in and trade for Jacob deGrom.

The Brewers have made the playoffs four times in their history. It’s interesting to note that in each of those years, they made a big trade for a pitcher:

• In 2011, they acquired Zack Greinke before the season for Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, Jake Odorizzi and Jeremy Jeffress. Greinke went 16-6 as the Brewers won 96 games and the NL Central.

• In 2008, they acquired CC Sabathia on July 7. He went 11-2 with a 1.65 ERA in 17 starts, threw seven complete games and memorably carried the Brewers to the wild card by starting three times on three days’ rest the final nine days of the season.

• In 1982, they acquired Don Sutton on Aug. 30 and he went 4-1 in seven starts, including beating the Orioles on the final day of the season as the Brewers won the AL East by one game over Baltimore.

• In 1981, they acquired Rollie Fingers in the offseason, and he went on to win Cy Young and MVP honors as the team’s closer.

In those rare seasons when the Brewers have chased a playoff spot, seizing the moment has been their defining characteristic. The Brewers lead the Cubs in the NL Central. The Cubs are still the division favorites, but the Brewers are a good team. They have a dominant bullpen led by the unhittable Josh Hader. The lineup has a couple of holes and is only middle of the pack in the NL, but the Brewers lead the majors in defensive runs saved. The rotation is solid but unspectacular, ranking 13th in the majors in ERA. What the rotation needs is an ace. It needs Jacob deGrom.

Todd Kirkland/AP Photo

The Mets’ season is over. They’re 13 games under .500, and their lineup on Tuesday included an LOL defense of Jose Reyes at short, Asdrubal Cabrera at second, Dominic Smith in left and Jose Bautista in right. It isn’t certain that the Mets should trade deGrom, let alone that they will, especially given that he’s under team control through 2020. The announcement Tuesday that GM Sandy Alderson is taking a leave of absence for cancer treatment and that his tenure as GM is probably over only complicates the direction of the club.

Do the Brewers have the young talent to acquire deGrom? It probably would take a package that exceeds even what they gave up for Greinke, who had two seasons of team control. Their top prospect is bat-first second baseman Keston Hiura, who is hitting .331/.389/.537 in the minors, including .358 in 21 games at Double-A. Corbin Burnes is the team’s top pitching prospect, and he has a 4.93 ERA at Triple-A Colorado Springs, with more K’s than innings, and I’d look at that more than a high ERA at Colorado Springs.

You start with those two. The Brewers have a glut of outfielders. Domingo Santana hit 30 home runs last year and has been sent back to Triple-A to find his stroke and get some playing time. The Mets have their own glut of outfielders, but you can sort all that out later. Maybe you throw in Freddy Peralta, the undersized right-hander with the big numbers at Triple-A and a couple of impressive outings in the majors, including seven scoreless innings with 10 strikeouts and one hit on Tuesday against the Royals (though he probably faced better lineups at Colorado Springs). Is that enough? Hiura, Burnes, Santana and Peralta for deGrom? Maybe you get the Mets to include Cabrera, who would provide an offensive upgrade at second base.

The Cubs are vulnerable. The Brewers can win this thing. It isn’t likely that they can ever sign an ace, since they’ll lose every bidding war. They have to trade for one.


Brewers recall Brad Miller, send down struggling Domingo Santana

Associated Press

MILWAUKEE — The Milwaukee Brewers recalled veteran infielder Brad Miller from Triple-A Colorado Springs on Saturday and optioned struggling outfielder Domingo Santana there in an exchange of former 30-homer players.

Miller, acquired from Tampa Bay on June 10 for first baseman-outfielder Ji-Man Choi, was in the Brewers’ starting lineup at second base and batting sixth Saturday against St. Louis.

Jeff Roberson/AP Photo

“That first day, no matter how much sleep you have, no matter the travel, it doesn’t really matter, you’re running on adrenaline,” Miller said before the game. “Excited to get in there right away and get to work.”

Santana hit .278 last season for Milwaukee with 30 homers and 85 RBI, but never got going this season. He hit .249 and just three homers and 17 RBI in 189 at-bats.

“At some point, we’re going to need Domingo and we’d prefer that he was kind of rolling and clicking when that times comes,” manager Craig Counsell said.

“It’s tough to do it when you’re not playing that much. It’s not something that you want to have to do, and he was a big part of our success last year. But, we just need to get him going and the best way to do that is have him playing,” he said.

With Jesus Aguilar and his team-best 16 homers earning more time at first base, recently activated Eric Thames has been playing more outfield, reducing Santana’s role.

The 28-year-old Miller batted .256 with five homers and 21 RBI in 48 games this season with Tampa Bay. Miller hit .243 with 30 homers and 81 RBI for the Rays in 2016, but dipped to .201 with nine homers and 40 RBI last season.

“Each year is different and you kind of go with the ebbs and flows — but I think just being in this environment and in this culture they’ve created here, it seems pretty positive for everybody involved,” Miller said.

Miller has started at seven different positions in the majors. He played 105 games at shortstop with Tampa Bay in 2016, then 98 games at second base with the Rays last season. This year, he played 35 games at first and six at second with Tampa Bay.

“What we may ask of him is to move around the field more regularly at different positions on a daily basis, whether it be double switches late in the game or in a starting role,” Counsell said. “But, he is versatile, he’s a pretty good athlete. He has done this all before, it’s just kind of getting him comfortable with doing it again.”

A Saints approach: Packers could copy New Orleans’ run plan

Rob Demovsky, ESPN Staff Writer

GREEN BAY, Wis. — If you watched the New Orleans Saints last season — and looked specifically at how Sean Payton employed his running backs — then you have an idea how an NFL team can successfully incorporate two dynamic players at a position that typically features only one of them on the field at a time.

And how they can do it without taking the ball out of the hands of their Hall of Fame quarterback to boot.

You also might have seen a way the Green Bay Packers can meld their three potentially productive backs — Ty Montgomery, Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones — into something similar even with the return of Aaron Rodgers from the broken collarbone that ruined last season.

The NFL always has been a copycat league, so don’t be surprised if coach Mike McCarthy takes a page out of Payton’s playbook. The Saints coach fielded the NFL’s fifth-best rushing attack last season in large part because he blended veteran running back Mark Ingram with Offensive Rookie of the Year Alvin Kamara. It wasn’t just your standard starter and third-down/change-of-pace combination; the two were essentially interchangeable, which kept defenses honest no matter which one lined up behind Drew Brees.

McCarthy certainly wasn’t going to tip his hand when asked last week if he studied how the Saints used their backs and if it could be applicable to his offense.

Larry Radloff/Icon Sportswire

“The fact of the matter is we’re going to go running back by committee,” he said during an interview at the conclusion of the offseason program. “But if one of them would emerge as that full-time guy then you have to have that ability to … adjust to that. As far as planning and going into the season, that’s why we’re going about it that way. We feel like we’ve got three guys that have all done it, but they haven’t done it over a long period of time, so I think it’s just practical thinking from that position and realizing that it’s a very demanding position.”

Ingram ranked fourth in the NFL in both rushing yards (1,124) and rushing average (4.9). Kamara ranked 26th (728) and first (6.1), respectively. Kamara led all backs in receiving yards (826) and ranked second in catches (81). Ingram ranked 13th (416) and eighth (58), respectively.

That’s where Montgomery, Williams and Jones come in for the Packers. While none has done it for a full season — all three battled injuries at different points last season, something McCarthy has been rightly reminding everyone of since early in the offseason — they’ve all shown the ability to stay on the field for all three downs. All three can carry the ball, catch the ball and pass block, but the third skill might be the most shaky for each one.

By now, all three have become familiar: Montgomery, the converted receiver who provides matchup advantages; Williams, last year’s fourth-round pick who led the team in rushing; Jones, the small but explosive fifth-rounder who averaged 5.5 yards a carry and had perhaps the highlight run of the season with the 20-yard game-winning touchdown in overtime against the Buccaneers.

“We’ve got young players that we really like that all played really well, but it’s been in short periods of time,” McCarthy said. “Ty Montgomery had a run there where he was outstanding. Jamaal has probably been the most available of the three, and Aaron has been so impactful when he’s been in there. I just think like anything, you project and you set a path.”

For his part, the 5-foot-9 Jones set out to bulk up this season in an effort to become more durable. He sustained a pair of MCL injuries — one to each knee — that derailed what could have been a special rookie season.

“I’m bigger all around,” Jones said this offseason. “That’s something that’s going to help me in pass protection and that’s something I want to get better at. I’m stronger, so definitely when a defender who’s bigger than me comes up I can hold my ground this year. I feel like any athlete wants to get bigger, stronger as long as they can stay explosive. I still feel just as explosive as I was if not even more.”

Perhaps the best thing about the Packers’ running back combination is they’re a year older and wiser. Given that it was Montgomery’s first full year as a running back, position coach Ben Sirmans essentially worked with three rookies last season.

“I think the thing is it gives you more confidence when you have a play design that they’re going to operate and do it correctly and not as concerned or worried about it as you were when they were rookies,” Sirmans said. “Are we putting too much on their plate? I think more than anything, it will allow us to expand the menu of what we’re doing.”

Whether it’s the Saints’ approach or some other form of running back by committee, it has become clear that McCarthy doesn’t plan to rely on one back and one back alone.

“You’ve got to be honest about that position; there’s not too many guys that can play 19 games,” McCarthy said. “To be the workhorse and do it week in and week out for 19 games, you’re a unique player. Your availability is at the top of the line because that’s such a demanding position. I can remember back in the 1990s seeing Marcus Allen in the cold tub after seeing him carry 25 times in a game. It took him probably until Wednesday or Thursday to recover. You always remember the first time you see what these guys go through at that position. And I think it’s no different for us because you do have to make a determination based on your players.”