With the off-season program officially done the Packers’ players now head to their respective destinations to relax, the fans start to anticipate training camp, the beginning of the 2017 season and the chance to see how this team comes together. While for many of the rookies, there is still a lot to learn, they all will get a chance to maintain their bodies in preparation for the long, grueling season to come.
Earlier this week, I broke down the rookie running back situation (focusing on the rookie running backs with video highlights) and it would be hard not to be excited about how the Packers running game is shaping up for next year. While it seems an eternity until training camp finally arrives, it is worth taking note of some of the nuances of what the Packers running game may need and where they may see improvement.
Exit of Eddie Lacy
The exit of Eddie Lacy left a hole in the Packers’ running game in terms of having a bruiser in the backfield. Lacy had weight problems and an injury history that were perhaps the leading cause of his demise in Green Bay. But when he left the scene in 2016, he did so with a bang, with 17 carries for 65 yards and a long of 25 (explosive play) before he had to leave with the injury that would eventually lead to surgery. Lacy was a pounder…and the Packers can use just such a back, especially in December at Lambeau. While Ty Montgomery is not necessarily the same body type as Lacy, he is leaner and quicker and showed the ability to get the job done even in the A gap. Add to that the fact that a secondary discovery to Montgomery as a running back was the discovery of the varied ability of Aaron Ripkowski who could be the shorty yardage back to begin the year. The Packers need a replacement for Lacy’s style of running but I think they may have it in the combination of Monty and Rip.
Ty Montgomery in pass protection
Ty Montgomery ran well for the Packers while learning the position at the same time. How much better will he be with an entire off-season under his belt? In particular, Ty has been working on pass protection which is paramount, considering the quarterback he is protecting. Montgomery has been working with former Packers second round running back Brandon Jackson who had to learn the importance of pass protection the hard way. Jackson made his greatest weakness a strength and now will pass on that knowledge to Ty who will presumably function as the third down back as a dual threat. The times that Ty is kept in for pass pro will be critical plays for him. He will continue to go over those protection assignments and the requisite footwork during his time off and should be good to go come training camp. The reads, the footwork, and the contact will come easier this year than last as he was thrown into the fire before. Montgomery’s intelligence and athleticism (with an additional five pounds or so) enable him to get to his spot faster now that he won’t have to think so much. The extra bulk (which may decrease during the course of training camp) will help him protect against rushers that while bigger, may still find themselves redirected by Ty, and we all know how Aaron Rodgers moves in the pocket (already as light as he has ever been) so that may be all it takes.
The Packers running backs, whether Monty, Rip, or any of the rookies, will gain an advantage by the use of heavier formations and other ways in which a lead blocker is employed. The obvious candidate for this is fullback Aaron Ripkowski, and Ty behind Rip should be exciting to watch. But the addition of Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks will add greatly to the creativity that Mike McCarthy will be afforded in the passing game. The tight end can run block, lead block, or chip block and run a route. They can go in motion, effectively taking a linebacker out of the play. The Packers’ running game should see major benefit in the upcoming season in the ability to grind out yards and pick up first downs on third and short.
Catching out of the backfield
Another thing Eddie Lacy did extremely well was catch out of the backfield. But with Ty Montgomery as the third down back, it could be argued that he is the best pass-catching running back in the league. Montgomery can rip off a hundred yard game through the air and opposing defenses are going to have to make tough decisions about the personnel they commit to the box. Additionally, Monty will be split wide from time to time as we saw Eddie Lacy early last year, offering the opportunity for additional mismatches. At 6’2″ Ty isn’t going to “disappear” in the backfield behind the linemen but that won’t matter because of his exceptional route-running ability. Combined yardage for Ty Montgomery is off the charts this year.
The discussion so far has only included players from last year’s team. It is important that the Packers were able to pick up no less than three running backs in the draft, any of which could rise to the top and become a nice addition to a backfield that will still need a couple more players at least. You can find a full discussion of the rookie running backs here.
So while this part of the schedule is relaxation for the players, it is anticipation for the fans. We wait for training camp and the competition that will ensue with bated breath. The 2017 season is shaping up nicely and there is much to be excited about. Training camp and the pre-season will be a chance for the younger players to continue to develop on the road to the week one matchup against the Seahawks at Lambeau. While the development of the rookie running backs will be important, it is good to know that as it stands right now, the offensive backfield is in good hands. Oh, and while you wait…here are some Ty Montgomery highlights to help tide you over: