Ty Montgomery has heard the doubters.
He’s got bad hands.
And he knows when those whispers started.
“I think it was a really bad game my sophomore year at Washington,” Montgomery, the Green Bay Packers’ rookie receiver, said while relaxing at his locker following Saturday’s practice. “I had some drops and I dropped the game-winner — it was a tough catch but I dropped the game-winner. From there, people were saying I can’t catch.”
So it was with more than a little pleasure that Montgomery capped a tremendous day with a sensational catch. Lined up wide to the left, Montgomery beat impressive rookie corner Ladarius Gunter, adjusted to Brett Hundley’s deep pass and made a leaping catch while tumbling backward to the Ray Nitschke Field turf.
“Anytime you catch a ball, it helps your confidence,” Montgomery said. “Your confidence is never low, but when you go a couple of practices and no balls get thrown your way, you're kind of like, ‘I’m a receiver. I need some balls.’ But, no, I appreciated Brett giving me the opportunity. I’m glad I came down with it.”
After two quiet days, Montgomery made his presence felt throughout Saturday’s practice. Late in an 11-on-11 period, he showed his speed by racing down the sideline on an end-around. In the pass-under-pressure period, he made a nice catch on a low pass from Scott Tolzien, shot upfield after beating Damarious Randall on an out, then made an excellent catch on an off-target bullet from Hundley. Moments before his circus catch, he showed his strength as a blocker on a big run from Rajion Neal.
Montgomery entered his final season at Stanford as the top-ranked senior receiver prospect in the nation. However, he wound up tumbling down draft boards because of concerns about his production (9.9 yards per catch, five drops as a senior), injuries (he had shoulder surgery before his senior season and missed the final game of his career because of the shoulder) and size-speed concerns (just less than 6-foot and a 4.58 in the 40 at the Scouting Combine.
The Packers happily grabbed him at the end of the third round, despite their loaded receiver corps. In the short term, he could be a shot in the arm on special teams, in general, and as a returner, specifically. While punt return has been a strength for the Packers, with Micah Hyde and Randall Cobb combining for five touchdowns the past four seasons, the team ranked 30th in kickoff-return average in 2013 and 31st last season. Montgomery averaged 27.4 yards with three touchdowns while returning 91 kickoffs in four seasons and 19.8 yards with two touchdowns while handling punt returns as a senior. A day after working with the blockers during a punt-return period, Montgomery handled kickoff returns on Saturday.
“Being a returner is hard,” Montgomery said. “And also blocking for the returner is very hard, so you have to understand that. I guess you could say some people have a knack for it but also, at the same time, I think special teams is purely effort — effort by the blockers and by the returner and by the guys covering the kicks.”
It’s just one day, but more days like Saturday could force the coaches to create a role for Montgomery on the league’s top-ranked scoring offense. Coach Mike McCarthy pointed to Montgomery’s power, playmaking ability and intelligence as someone that “asks a lot of questions.” His intelligence became apparent to the coaches when he didn’t miss a beat mentally despite missing almost all of the offseason work because class remained in session at Stanford until mid-June.
“I guess if they say I'm grasping it easily, I guess I am,” Montgomery said. “But it doesn't feel like that at meetings sometimes. I get frustrated thinking that they're annoyed with me with all the questions I'm asking, because I'm like, ‘Why is it this,’ or, ‘Why is it that?’ I’m just trying to make sure I understand it all.”
Montgomery’s sole focus is on the here and now. He’s not worried about whether he’ll be returning kicks. And he’s not pondering what kind of role might be created by the coaching staff, who found a way to involve Cobb as a rookie despite an equally stacked depth chart back in 2011.
“No, I haven’t,” he said. “Literally, I come in every morning, I eat breakfast, I go lift and then we have meetings and I look at the depth chart and figure out where I am, and then all I do is I learn my position for that day or for that install that we have going in the next day. Then I just try to do my job. I don’t really try to think about what the coaches want to do with me because I have no control over what they do with me.”
Nor does he have any control over what people think. If outsiders think he his suspect hands, fine. He’ll just keep making plays, like he did on Saturday.
“I feel like I’ve always had good hands,” he said. It just seems so natural to me and it’s always weird to hear people say I can’t catch and I don’t have hands. It kind of blows my mind a little bit because I’ve made a lot of catches throughout my career at Stanford. I don’t really think about it like that. I’m just being myself all the time.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.