Tramon Williams provides ‘biggest difference’ for Packers

By Rob Demovsky, ESPN Staff Writer

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Tramon Williams isn’t expected to be around this week. As a 12th-year veteran, he’s more than met coach Mike McCarthy’s prerequisite to be excused from the Green Bay Packers’ mandatory minicamp.

And at age 35, Williams won’t be around the NFL forever. But his influence on the Packers’ defense and his seemingly ageless play make it seem like he will.

In his second go-around with the team that gave him his first real chance to play in 2007 as an undrafted cornerback, the measure of Williams’ impact won’t come only in the form of interceptions and pass breakups but also in the influence he’ll have over the Packers’ young cornerbacks — first- and second-round picks Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson, respectively, plus second-year pro Kevin King chief among them.

While Williams and other veterans with at least five years of experience are expected to be excused from minicamp as McCarthy has done in the past, the fruits of his impact on the others should be noticeable.

Larry Radloff/Icon Sportswire

It was no wonder that none other than Aaron Rodgers turned a question about the Packers’ rookie corners into an answer about old No. 38.

“I said it walking off the field today, the biggest difference on the back end is 38,” Rodgers said last week of Williams. “When he showed back up here, he is as of right now, in my humble opinion, the best on that side of the ball, and you want your best players to be the best guys in the locker room, and there’s nobody better than Tramon.

“It’s great having him back. Those young guys, I would tell them and will tell them here at some point, watch the older guys because there’s a reason that guy’s been around as long as he has — undrafted, practice squad, one of the biggest players in our Super Bowl run and then he’s back here to finish it up. It’s really fun.”

‘Unfinished business’

So many things went wrong in the final minutes of the 2014 NFC Championship Game that it’s easy to forget how it actually ended, and who gave up the final play.

It was Williams, who was in coverage — all by himself because of a blitz call from defensive coordinator Dom Capers — against Seattle’s Jermaine Kearse on the Seahawks’ 35-yard game-winning touchdown in overtime.

It was Williams’ final play as a Packer. The Packers moved on and so did Williams, who signed with the Browns that offseason. He played two years in Cleveland and last season with the Cardinals before he returned to Green Bay this offseason on a two-year, $10 million deal.

“I feel like there’s unfinished business,” Williams said upon his return.

“To walk off the field on my last play as a Packer getting scored on to go to the Super Bowl, it was a tough way to end it. But God puts you in different situations. I ended up leaving and there was a reason why I left — for me to grow. I feel over these last three years, I’ve grown so much more than I would’ve probably ever done while I was here. Now it’s time for me to come back here and get things in order. I’m up for that challenge. I believe that we will be back in the big dance when it’s all said and done. I’m hoping that these guys are here with me, and we’re going to get it done.”

More than a mentor

Williams’ return is more than ceremonial; he wouldn’t be here if general manager Brian Gutekunst thought he was over the hill.

During OTA practices, Williams regularly manned one of the outside positions with the No. 1 defense and is a good bet to be one of the opening-day starters. If King’s recovery from shoulder surgery goes as expected, he could be the other. Alexander could be the leading candidate for the nickel spot and Jackson for the dime position.

But there’s a mentorship aspect in play, too.

Williams played in new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s system in Cleveland, making him and defensive tackle Muhammad Wilkerson (who played for Pettine with the Jets) expert teachers of the new scheme.

“It’s one thing me saying it, it’s another thing you have a guy in the room with you doing those things, doing the yoga, getting massages, doing the extra stretching, studying film a certain way,” Packers defensive passing-game coordinator Joe Whitt said recently in talking about Williams. “He does everything the proper way, so it’s just been great having him back. And then the three practices he’s gone, he’s been really, really good. He’s still really quick. He’s got his hands on a number of balls. I’ve been really pleased with the way he’s played.”

Williams claims he doesn’t know how much longer he will play, even though he says he gets that question “all the time.” Unlike one of his mentors, Al Harris, who’s now on the Chiefs coaching staff, Williams doesn’t think he’ll coach after his career is over. But he has no problem helping out while he plays.

“One of the things that I’ve told those guys already, when I came in here and I had the opportunity to see great guys play and learn from great guys,” Williams said. “I wasn’t really forced in. My number was called, and I was prepared because I got a chance to watch those guys. I got a chance to watch Charles [Woodson] and Nick [Collins] and those guys and build a relationship with them, even when I wasn’t playing. All of that factors in.

“We try to do a good job of team bonding all the time, whether it be going out to eat at night or whatever it may be. You have to be able to trust the next man on the field with you, and you want that to go further than just the field. That’s one thing that I always preach to the guys. There’s a reason why guys play for a long time. One thing I realize is that smart guys last in this league. Everybody is talented, but the smart guys last in this league. The faster you can get smart, the better you’ll do and the longer you’ll last.”

OTAs show Ty Montgomery remains part of Packers’ plans

By Rob Demovsky, ESPN Staff Writer

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Mike McCarthy would love to see what Ty Montgomery can do if he’s healthy.

The Green Bay Packers coach still believes the receiver-turned-running back could be a matchup nightmare for defenses.

That’s why even though Montgomery has yet to prove he can avoid the injury bug, he appears to be set for another significant role in the offense. That much became evident during three weeks of OTA practices, in which Montgomery didn’t appear to lose any ground to emerging running backs Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones.

“We have to take advantage of Ty’s skills, and there’s no question about that,” McCarthy said. “The offense is suited for that.”

Montgomery opened last season as the Packers’ starter but broken ribs and a wrist injury ruined his first season as a full-time running back. The success he had during his midseason position switch in 2016, when he averaged 5.9 yards on 77 carries, never returned. He gave way to Williams and Jones, two of the three running backs the Packers drafted last year.

Williams showed workhorse ability, leading the team in both carries (153) and rushing yards (556). He tied Jones for the team lead in rushing touchdowns (four), although Jones played with more explosiveness and averaged 5.5 yards per rush. Both, however, battled knee injuries as rookies.

Neither has the versatility of Montgomery, whom McCarthy regularly describes as “multi-positional.”

“As far as the running backs, all those guys can play,” McCarthy said. “Ty’s had some incredible periods of play for us and just really what we’ve talked about since the day the season ended: No one has really gone the distance, so that’s why we’re a running back-by-committee approach, and we like all those guys. But yeah, definitely, Ty can play from the backfield and still has the ability to flex him out and get the matchups we’re looking for. We have plenty of that in the offense.”

The running back situation was one of several questions leading into the OTAs. Here are some answers to the others as the final part of the offseason program, this week’s three-day minicamp, approaches:

Kizer vs. Hundley: DeShone Kizer still has a ways to go to challenge Brett Hundley for the backup quarterback job.

However, a couple of things stood out about Kizer: He strikes an imposing figure at 6-foot-4 and 235 pounds, but it’s also apparent that he’s still working through some of the accuracy issues that hampered him as the Browns’ rookie starter last year.

One sign of progress came last week when he threw a perfectly placed fade to tight end Marcedes Lewis for a touchdown in a red zone period.

“He’s obviously a big body, throws the ball well,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “He’s just trying to get accustomed to our language and some of the fundamentals we teach here, but he’s picking it up great. He’s fun to have in the meetings.”

McCray and a question mark: One-half of the right side of the offensive line issue appears to be answered: Justin McCray is a virtual lock to start at right guard.

The second-year pro played all over the line last year but now has the chance to settle in at one position, and it has been a major benefit.

“The kid just keeps impressing you,” offensive line coach James Campen said. “The guy came back; he’s lived here and changed his diet. He’s been totally engaged with what coach [Mark] Lovat and the strength staff have done in that room. … The things he has done and displayed this offseason speaks volumes to where he wants to go. I think you just saw the tip of what Justin will be. The more reps and the more time he can be devoted to this profession and this just be a one-year cycle of it, I think he’s going to be a much better player.”

Ty Montgomery opened last year as the Packers’ starter but broken ribs and a wrist injury derailed his season. Jim Matthews/USA TODAY NETWORK

Right tackle, however, appears far from settled. At the last open OTA practice, Adam Pankey manned that spot with the first team. Pankey, an undrafted free agent in 2017, did not play a single snap on offense last season as a rookie. Bryan Bulaga won’t be ready for training camp — or possibly the regular season — because of his ACL recovery. Jason Spriggs is still dealing with a knee injury, and Kyle Murphy (foot) hasn’t been fully cleared. That’s why the Packers signed veteran journeyman Byron Bell last month.

Alexander, Jackson shine: The real test will come with the pads on in camp, but the Packers’ top two draft picks already have shown a penchant for finding the football.

Jaire Alexander picked off Rodgers during an open OTA, and Josh Jackson had a big pass breakup during a closed session.

“They’re talking a lot, so I’m going to have to dice them up once we get down to it,” Rodgers joked. “No, I like to see the confidence, I really do. That’s how you want your corners — to play with that swagger, that confidence. [Alexander’s] a little louder than [Jackson] is, but it’s fun to look on the other side of the ball and see those guys making plays. Now, pads are a great equalizer, so you never want to make too big of a judgment.”

Pettine’s D: One thing about new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s practices: they’re not quiet.

Pettine isn’t shy to point out mistakes, but that’s nothing compared to new linebackers coach/run game coordinator Patrick Graham. The former Giants and Patriots assistant can be heard from just about anywhere on the practice field.

“There’s a little bit of yelling at practice,” Rodgers said. The linebacker coach does a lot of yelling, actually. So that’s new, different. It’s energy, you know. It’s yelling energy, but it’s good. Change can be really good for … Anytime you’re in a situation where you’ve had the same type of things going on for a number of years, it’s nice to change it up in some positions.”

It’s all part of Pettine’s plan to hold his players accountable, something that was lacking at times under former defensive coordinator Dom Capers, according to some players.