Coach Mike McCarthy’s decision to excuse 16 players with six-plus years of experience from this week’s minicamp impacted all but one position group.
Regardless of McCarthy’s decision to give his older players an early start to their summer vacations, Ty Montgomery would be in the bizarre position of being the one and only veteran at running back. Remember, at this time a year ago, Montgomery was listed on the depth chart at receiver. Montgomery didn’t start working at running back until the start of last year’s regular season and didn’t become the focal point of the backfield until veterans Eddie Lacy and James Starks went down with major injuries. Now, the 24-year-old Montgomery – with merely 80 carries in two NFL seasons – is the unquestioned leader of the backfield. Without Lacy, who signed with Seattle in the offseason, and Starks, who was released, Montgomery is joined in the backfield by five rookies – including draft picks Jamaal Williams, Aaron Jones and Devante Mays.
“It’s really weird. I don’t even have a full year at the position,” Montgomery said last month. “I feel like I’m coming off my rookie year. I’m prepared.”
Helping with that preparation is the return of a familiar face. Brandon Jackson, a second-round draft pick by Green Bay in 2007, is serving as a minority coaching intern. During four seasons with the Packers, he rushed for 1,329 yards, caught 110 passes and became a trusted third-down pass protector for quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
With a 5.9-yard rushing average last season, Montgomery has shown he can run the ball with power and patience. As a former receiver, his pass-catching skills are unquestioned. Where Montgomery has to grow is as a pass protector, a vital skill that he had to learn on the fly last year without the benefit of training camp or preseason games for any live training. Jackson struggled in that phase of the game at the start of his career before turning it into arguably the best part of his game in becoming the team’s third-down back.
“He’s helped me a lot and he’s helped me develop into the guy that he ended up being,” Montgomery said after Wednesday’s practice. “He’s shown me everything that he’s learned and given me his mind-set and all the technique that he has.”
At age 31, Jackson looks like he could still line up and take on a blitzing linebacker.
“It’s a blessing and it’s a benefit just to have Brandon back here,” coach Mike McCarthy said before Wednesday’s practice. “On a personal note, it’s nice to help your former players in the coaching profession. He still looks like he can play. I know when he walked into the training camp, (team physician) Pat McKenzie wanted to give him a physical; he thought he came back to play. He’s got a bright future ahead of him, but to get in there and have hands on work with the young running backs, it’s been a great benefit.”
Jackson, of course, is not going to play, but he does provide about the closest thing to a veteran presence in the Packers’ incredibly young running backs room.
“The biggest thing I told him coming into it, because there’s no vets in that room, there’s no guys with an extended amount of playing time, so I told him to pass that (experience) along to these young guys,” running backs coach Ben Sirmans said on Tuesday. “And I told the young guys to make sure they take advantage of that. He’s working with Ty a little bit. One of the things I understand he was really good at was pass protection, so make sure he explains to Ty how important that is.”
Montgomery has worked extensively on pass protection during the offseason practices. While all of the rookie running backs toil on special teams during kicking-game periods early in practice, Montgomery has been working on the side with Sirmans and Jackson to learn the finer points of blocking. On Wednesday, Jackson showed Montgomery a technique in which he put both hands together to form one big fist to bowl over a big dummy.
If Montgomery can master the physical and mental skills necessary to keep blitzers away from Rodgers, the sky appears to be the limit for a player who would have led the NFL in yards per carry last year had he received enough carries to qualify among the league leaders.
“I want to be great. I want to be one of the best,” he said last month. “I know I have the potential to be great. That’s what I feel. I’m not trying to sound arrogant but I don’t want to shortchange myself. It’s going to take a lot of work and I’m going to have to trust the process and handle the ebbs and flows. I’m not going to average 6 yards per carry. I’ve got to handle the ebbs and flows and stay consistent in doing my part and taking advantage of my opportunities.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.