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.”