Green Bay — Ty Montgomery was in the stands at Texas Stadium on Oct. 27, 2002, when Emmitt Smith became the NFL’s all-time leading rusher. Montgomery was 9 years old, a Dallas resident and an impressionable Cowboys fan, and he idolized Smith and the man whose record Smith broke.
“I was a big fan of Walter Payton,” Montgomery said. “I had a pair of KangaROOS that I found in a Ross (store), actually. I was a big fan of Earl Campbell. Barry Sanders. Marshall Faulk. Emmitt Smith. And Eddie George, as well.”
As a senior at St. Mark’s School of Texas, Montgomery rushed for 893 yards and averaged nearly 10 yards a carry, but his days as a running back were about to end. At Stanford, he was a receiver and kick returner, and the Green Bay Packers drafted him in the third round in 2015 with those roles in mind.
However, necessity being the mother of invention — and position changes — Montgomery found himself primarily in the backfield Thursday night and played a pivotal role in the Packers’ 26-10 victory over the Chicago Bears.
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With Green Bay running backs falling like dominoes, Montgomery lined up alongside quarterback Aaron Rodgers in the shotgun more than 40 times, rushed nine times for 60 yards — including a 30-yarder, the Packers’ second-longest run of the season — and caught 10 passes for 66 yards.
Which just proves that you can take the running back out of the backfield, but you can’t take the runner out of the back.
“I’m a football player,” Montgomery said. “As a football player, I can do anything that’s asked of me. That’s the mind-set I have. That’s the mind-set I was raised with. That’s the mind-set my mom gave me. She told me to be a versatile athlete and that’s what I try to do.”
No question, Montgomery’s background as a running back helped him adjust to his hybrid role. Coach Mike McCarthy had just started using him in a similar fashion last year when the rookie suffered a season-ending ankle injury.
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“My approach wasn’t any different than my approach playing receiver,” Montgomery said. “It’s just a different position. That’s all it is. And I was prepared to do either one of them.”
At 6 feet and 216 pounds, he’s not going to get 20 carries a game. But with Eddie Lacy and James Starks out, Knile Davis getting a crash course in the offense and Don Jackson promoted from the practice squad only to suffer a wrist injury after just two carries against the Bears, this could be Montgomery’s role for at least the next couple of weeks.
“It doesn’t matter,” he said. “I can do this for however long.”
Even for the rest of the season?
“Yeah, if I have to,” Montgomery said. “It’s a lot of fun back there. I love it. I just love being on the field with these guys, contributing however I can.”
On his 30-yard run, he showed patience until a hole opened up and then wasted no time getting through it. He finally was dragged down by safety Adrian Amos and cornerback De’Vante Bausby.
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“It was my first big play out of the backfield,” Montgomery said. “I was pretty happy about that. Everybody’s fast in this league. I would have liked to score, but I couldn’t outrun them all.”
McCarthy has to love what Montgomery gives him, because defenses must prepare for it. Whether he gets carries in formations with three or four wideouts or in a more traditional run package with one or two tight ends and/or fullback Aaron Ripkowski, Montgomery gives the offense another wrinkle.
“Ty is doing a heck of a job, getting thrown into a tough situation,” said receiver Jordy Nelson. “He’s a smart kid and he’s learned extremely well.”
To Montgomery, it’s no big deal. He’s a football player. He’ll play any position he’s asked to play. If the Packers wanted him to play guard or tackle, he’d work on somehow getting in the way.
“If they ask me to play line, I’ll figure out how to pass set,” he said. “And eat a little bit.”