Green Bay — The Super Bowl participants — New England and Atlanta — could hit foes with a one-two running back punch that could knock them silly.
Atlanta’s dynamic duo of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman can beat teams with speed and power. That terrific twosome helped the Falcons rank No. 5 in the NFL in rushing yards.
New England’s LeGarrette Blount hammered away at teams and ran for an NFL-best 18 touchdowns. If the Patriots wanted a change of pace, Super Bowl hero James White offered the perfect complement.
Perhaps a backfield-by-committee is where the Green Bay Packers are heading.
The Packers seem hell-bent on making wideout-turned-running back Ty Montgomery part of their backfield in 2017. But with Montgomery still green and perhaps not ready to handle 20 carries a game, Green Bay could spend the off-season searching for a running back to team with Montgomery.
“I have no idea what they’re thinking on that,” Montgomery said near the end of the season. “I just hope I’m in the mix.”
Montgomery figures to be.
When injuries hit the position, Montgomery stepped in and stepped up. Montgomery averaged a whopping 5.9 yards per carry, but ran the ball just 77 times.
Still, Montgomery led Green Bay with 457 rushing yards and finished the year with three rushing TDs. Montgomery also caught 44 passes — most coming out of the backfield — for 348 yards (7.9).
As Montgomery left Green Bay at season’s end, he told head coach Mike McCarthy he wanted to change his number from 88 to one worn by a running back. And Montgomery’s off-season will be spent trying to build up his lower body to handle the pounding running backs take.
“Talking with Ty in his exit interview, he’s a running back,” McCarthy said. “So he’ll spend the whole off-season clearly working at the running back position. Obviously the ability to flex out and play receiver and those types of things will be his secondary responsibility. But he’ll be on the depth chart as a running back.”
Montgomery has certainly earned the right.
Packers running back Eddie Lacy was placed on injured reserve after Week 6 with an ankle injury. Green Bay traded for Knile Davis who showed little and picked up unreliable Christine Michael off the street.
Later in the year, James Starks suffered a concussion after a car accident and missed the final six games (including playoffs). Starks was released by the Packers on Tuesday.
Through it all, Montgomery was largely available and effective.
Montgomery was given a then-season high nine carries in a Week 7 win over Chicago. Between Week 14 and the NFL divisional playoffs, Montgomery averaged 10.7 carries per game, highlighted by a 16-carry, 162-yard, two touchdown effort at Chicago.
Montgomery, who hadn’t played running back since his freshman year in high school, displayed terrific vision and timing through the hole. And the Packers believe with an off-season of fine-tuning, Montgomery could have a bright future at the position.
“I wouldn’t say it surprises us,” Packers offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett said of Montgomery. “I think going into it you knew he had the toughness and that’s the starting point, the attitude of it.
“His ability to break tackles, that’s the No. 1 trait that you kind of look for. How do you go about breaking tackles — the balance, using the stiff arm, playing with leverage, accelerating his feet on contact, doing the little things, understanding when and how to use certain rushes and techniques. I would say it doesn’t really surprise us knowing Ty Montgomery the way we do.”
Now, the Packers need to find someone to pair Montgomery with.
One option is Lacy, who will become a free agent next month.
Lacy had a pair of terrific seasons in 2013-’14, when he ran for 2,317 yards, had 684 receiving yards and 24 total touchdowns. But his weight ballooned, he played in just 20 games over the last two years and his production tailed off dramatically.
The Packers could let Lacy test the free agent waters, and if he doesn’t get any bites, bring him back on a one-year, club-friendly deal. Or Green Bay might simply decide to move on from a player who failed to show the necessary commitment and will power to keep his weight under control.
Fullback Aaron Ripkowski was used in one-back sets and averaged 4.4 yards per rush on his 34 carries. Pro Football Focus ranked Ripkowski as the No. 5 fullback in the NFL and his future appears bright.
Montgomery bulked up to 225 pounds by season’s end, but he never carried the ball more than 16 times in a game. The Packers will almost certainly pair another player with Montgomery, but it seems Green Bay has seen enough to put at least half of its chips on Montgomery.
“He’s big, breaks tackles but he also has that second gear to get going and get to work on the second level,” McCarthy said of Montgomery. “He’s outstanding out of the backfield. You always look for bigger backs. It’s my personal preference and you want them to be three-down players.
“The fact that he’s a really good pass protector, he’s really developed into that, very intelligent, so he can play both the running back, the displaced running back, run a multitude of routes – probably more than the normal running back. He’s been a good weapon for us and he’s been very productive. I’m very proud of what Ty’s done.”
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