Montgomery fits mold of modern running back

Ryan Wood
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GREEN BAY – On paper, they are almost identical. One running back stood 6-foot, 217 pounds during his 12-year NFL career. The other is 6-foot, 216.

Green Bay Packers running back Ty Montgomery scores a touchdown in the first quarter against the Chicago Bears on Dec. 18, 2016 at Soldier Field.

It’s a game of inches, but 16 ounces shouldn’t make much difference. Both runners are built to handle a full-time workload. Pound it between the tackles 20 times a week, every week. Carry an offense when needed.

It’s what Ahman Green did with the Green Bay Packers. So it shouldn’t be surprising coach Mike McCarthy believes Ty Montgomery is big enough to do the same.

“You look at his body type,” McCarthy said, “my goodness. He’s a big, strong, athletic player. He can play in and out of the backfield. I think Ty is going to get exactly what he needs. He needs to develop there from Day 1 to get a lot more reps, and just get comfortable doing the things he’s already done.”

The question hovering over Montgomery this offseason, a year after making a difficult transition from receiver to running back look easy, is whether he can fill something more than a niche role in the Packers' offense.

Montgomery wasn’t asked to be a workhorse in 2016. In 10 games after moving to running back, he had double-digit carries once.

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It was Montgomery’s best game last season. The Packers couldn’t take the ball out of Montgomery’s hands in Chicago. He averaged more than 10 yards on 16 carries, finishing with 162 and two touchdowns.

Montgomery filled a big role in other weeks. Using his receiving skills, he had double-digit touches in six of his 10 games as a running back last season, averaging 11 touches per week.

A versatile skill set enabled Montgomery to gain 701 yards from scrimmage (rushing and receiving) in 10 games as a running back, a pace for 1,121 yards in a 16-game season. It was more than former Packers running back Eddie Lacy’s 623 yards from scrimmage in his final 10 weeks of 2015 (Lacy averaged 13.7 touches per game in that stretch).

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Montgomery wasn’t just a gimmick. He gave the Packers production. Green was impressed, saying Montgomery had a “phenomenal” transition to the backfield.

“The good thing,” Green said, “is he still had the same size, and what he adds to it is the element of endurance. Because he’s always running routes, deep routes. So he can recover a lot quicker, and the speed element is a little bit different.

“Now he’s got to use more muscle and grit to grind out hard yards between the tackles.”

The Packers expect Montgomery to produce again in the 2017 season. What they don’t know, and what at least partially will depend on the draft, is how that production will come.

Size alone isn’t enough to be a workhorse. It’s an acquired taste, something Montgomery never has done at an elite level. Which is why the Packers most likely will use a proven part of Montgomery’s skill set, specifically his versatility.

Of his 701 yards as a full-time running back, only 65 percent (451) came on the ground. The rest came as a receiver, mostly out of the backfield but occasionally split wide. For context, when Lacy had 623 yards in the final 10 games of 2015, 81 percent came on the ground.

McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson like the mismatches Montgomery’s receiving creates. He’s tough for safeties to cover, even tougher for linebackers. His inexperience as a downhill runner explains why the Packers still want more running backs.

“We need some more guys,” Thompson said last week at the NFL meetings. “We’re a little short in a couple of areas. So from a personnel standpoint, we’ve got to get some more bodies, but we like the guys that we have. It’s just that we’d like to get some more.”

Consider the backfield as a composition of skills instead of a depth chart with names, and it becomes clearer what the Packers are looking for.

Montgomery struggled last season in pass protection, but that’s a role fullback Aaron Ripkowski can help fill. Ripkowski became a favorite of quarterback Aaron Rodgers on third downs because of his ability to block pass rushers.

What the Packers lack is a bruiser – not in size, but style. A player who can take the punishment from defensive tackles, linebackers and screaming safeties each week.

Someone who ran like Green.

“I ran like a linebacker,” Green said. “Made sure I hit them first before they hit me.”

Thompson, active in free agency this spring, could return to the well for a running back. Adrian Peterson. LeGarrette Blount. The market is flush with physical runners.

More likely, the Packers will address their need by taking advantage of a deep running back draft class. McCarthy alluded to that option at the NFL meetings, promising to add running backs before May. The draft falls on the final weekend of April.

No matter what additions come, Montgomery still figures to play a big role in the Packers' offense. He fits the NFL’s modern era, when the passing game never has been more paramount. Green said a full offseason could do wonders for Montgomery.

“It’s going to be great for him,” Green said. “He’s going to have time now to get in the playbook and look at it differently, look at it from a running back standpoint and learn his responsibilities in the run game and the pass game, and wherever else the team needs him.”

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