Last shot? There’s a lot to prove for Packers’ Ty Montgomery

Rob Demovsky, ESPN Staff Writer

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Ty Montgomery showed up to training camp in style last week, when he rolled into St. Norbert College in a bright yellow Polaris Slingshot and looked ready to put the disappointment of last season behind him. Perhaps that’s why it took him so long to come up with the right word or two to describe what his 2017 felt like.

Five seconds passed. Then 10.

Finally, Montgomery offered this: “A frustrating misunderstanding. That’s the way I would put it.”

It was supposed to the Green Bay Packers running back’s first full season at his new position. Instead, it turned into an injury-shortened year that fueled more questions about whether the converted receiver could handle the switch.

The frustration came from this: Early in the season, his transition looked complete when after three games he led all NFL running backs in playing time with 23 more snaps than the second-most-used back, Dallas’ Ezekiel Elliott, even while he nursed a wrist injury. Then came a rib injury — multiple broken ribs he says now — that took him out of action for a week. He returned to play four more games before he took another shot to the ribs.

His season was over after eight games, but this is where he believes the misunderstanding comes in. It wasn’t the ribs that ended his season but rather the wrist that eventually required surgery, and he believes people simply chalked it up to a lack of toughness and durability needed to play running back.

“I think there’s a lot of people who assumed or never expected me to be able to do it anyway, but I don’t think a lot of people understand what I was playing through or what I was doing,” Montgomery said. “And they questioned my durability or my abilities. There’s nothing I can do about breaking my ribs. I don’t know how many guys could play running back with broken ribs. It was just unfortunate. I was ready to have a big year.”

Instead, then-rookies Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones emerged as starting-caliber running backs, leaving Montgomery as a near afterthought. That is, until this offseason, when based on how snaps were divided during OTA and minicamp practices it once again became apparent that Montgomery remains a significant part of coach Mike McCarthy’s running-back-by-committee plan.

“I feel really good about the running back group,” McCarthy said. “I think Ty’s transition has been pretty special. Not only what he’s done from a position change but you look what he’s done to prepare himself — you look at his body and the added muscle that he’s put on. Ty and just the other young guys, I think it’s going to be a very, very competitive position.”

It’s also a critical year for Montgomery, who’s in the final season of his rookie contract. His first task is to show he can stay healthy — something he has done in only one of his three NFL seasons.

After that, it’s all about what he can do for the offense.

Perhaps the committee approach will help in both regards. Although no one will say what that actually means in terms of reps, early in camp Williams has gotten the bulk of the work with the starters during normal down-and-distance situations while Montgomery has handled the two-minute and no-huddle drives where his receiving skills could come back into play. Jones, who must serve a two-game suspension to the start the season, dropped out after two practices with a hamstring injury.

“I mean, I feel as though I’ve put some good things on film, but every year is a big year,” Montgomery said. “I think what’s important for me now is being healthy and being on the field while healthy. I think it would obviously benefit me if I don’t have to play through an injury and I can just be myself. Having a son in the picture now, my wife and I, I have a new perspective on a lot of things. Call it motivation. Call it whatever you want, but I have a difference in my purpose that feels natural.”

Ever the positive thinker, Montgomery admitted even he needed a boost last season when the injuries set in. That’s when practice squad linebacker Ahmad Thomas, one of his good friends on the team, stepped in.

“He sent me something, the Chinese Farmer Parable — where [when something happens] you don’t know what’s good or bad,” Montgomery said. “Outside looking in, obviously it sucks to get injured. The positive is before I got injured, the younger guys weren’t getting very many reps. I remember seeing a stat where I had more snaps than any back in the league. The positive that comes from it is now we know what we have in these two guys.

“It opened up the conversation of what more can we do with Ty? I think that’s a positive that comes from this. He doesn’t just have to play running back; he can do both.”

Packers lack potential young stars outside of Kenny Clark, RBs

Rob Demovsky, ESPN Staff Writer

GREEN BAY, Wis. — They have a 34-year-old quarterback in Aaron Rodgers whose most proven offensive weapon (Jimmy Graham) is 31, their best pass rusher (Clay Matthews) is 32, and even their kicker (Mason Crosby) is well into his 30s.

No wonder the Green Bay Packers didn’t land a single player on ESPN’s best NFL starting lineup of players under the age of 25.

That’s essentially limited to the past three draft classes, and it could be a byproduct of former general manager Ted Thompson’s decline.

It’s probably too early to include any of the Packers’ 2018 draft picks in the conversation, although Giants rookie running back Saquon Barkley, the No. 2 overall pick in the draft, made the list over Ezekiel Elliott.

With that in mind, here’s a look at the Packers’ starters (and potential starters) under 25 at each position on offense and defense:

Quarterback
DeShone Kizer

Age: 22

One coach familiar with Kizer called the former Browns starter a “total rebuild” after he went winless in 15 starts for Cleveland. He’ll have to show marked improvement to challenge Brett Hundley for the backup job. The Packers unloaded a headache — cornerback Damarious Randall — to get Kizer in a trade.

Running back
Jamaal Williams/Aaron Jones

Ages: 23

At this point, it’s a tough call between the two. Williams looked more capable of handling workhorse duties, but Jones showed more explosiveness. Jones can’t play the first two games because of an NFL suspension, but by midseason, perhaps he could overtake Williams.

Receiver
Geronimo Allison

Age: 24

The former undrafted free agent will have to fend off competition from Michael Clark, a former college basketball player whose 6-foot-6 frame makes him an intriguing prospect, and the three receivers picked on Day 3 of the draft this spring. But Allison looks like the best bet to open the season as the No. 3 receiver behind Davante Adams (who doesn’t qualify for this list because he’s already 25) and Randall Cobb.

Tight end
Emanuel Byrd

Age: 23

This is a veteran position group with Graham, Lance Kendricks and Marcedes Lewis. But Byrd looks like a developmental project. He was promoted from the practice squad for the regular-season finale and caught two passes for 31 yards.

Tackle
Kyle Murphy/Jason Spriggs

Ages: 24

One them could start at right tackle to open the season if Bryan Bulaga’s rehabbed knee isn’t ready. Both finished last season on injured reserve. Murphy, a sixth-round pick in 2016, might have the edge over Spriggs, a second-round pick in the same draft.

Guard/Center
Lucas Patrick

Age: 24

The former undrafted rookie started two games last season — one at left guard and one at right guard. He has also worked at center, although he has not had any games reps there.

Defensive line
Kenny Clark

Age: 22

He’s the closest thing the Packers have to an under-25 star. He was only 20 when the Packers picked him in the first round in 2017 and won’t turn 23 until a month into his third NFL season this year. Clark had all 4.5 of his sacks last season in December and was perhaps the team’s most impactful player on defense late in the season.

Outside linebacker
None

Even potential up-and-comers Vince Biegel and Reggie Gilbert already have exceeded the age requirement — they’re both 25 — and they’ve hardly played. They’ve combined for one career sack; Gilbert got it in last year’s regular-season finale. Same with Kyler Fackrell, who is already 26 even though he was in the same draft class as Clark.

Inside linebacker
Blake Martinez

Age: 24

All the 2016 fourth-round pick did was tie for the NFL lead in tackles last season while ranking second on the Packers’ defense in snaps played. He figures to be a cornerstone in the new defensive scheme.

Cornerback
Kevin King

Age: 23

Big things are expected from last year’s top pick now that his ailing shoulder has been surgically repaired. The Packers expect to see the real King this year. Throw in this year’s top-two picks — Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson — and new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine is flush with young cornerback talent.

Safety
Josh Jones

Age: 23

Morgan Burnett, 29, left in free agency, which opens the door for Jones, who made seven starts last season as a rookie second-round pick.

Photo: Mark Hoffman/Milwaukee Journal Sentine

http://www.espn.com/blog/green-bay-packers/post/_/id/45132/packers-lack-potential-young-stars-outside-of-kenny-clark-rbs

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.”

http://www.espn.com/blog/green-bay-packers/post/_/id/45079/a-saints-approach-packers-could-copy-new-orleans-run-plan