Packers' rookie RBs primed for competition

Tom Silverstein
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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Packers rookie Jamaal Williams (30) carries during Packers rookie camp Friday inside the Don Hutson Center.

GREEN BAY - Clearly the most gregarious of the three running backs the Green Bay Packers selected in the NFL draft last week, fourth-round pick Jamaal Williams, had to catch himself during a group interview Friday inside the locker room.

Here for the first day of the team’s three-day rookie orientation, Williams was practically giddy about the opportunity to talk about his first full day on the job and all he hopes to do for the Packers from this day forward.

“Just come in and do my job,” Williams said. “And I’m just grateful for the opportunity to come out and to just go out and get a starting spot — well, not a starting spot — but just be able to play and play with (Ty) Montgomery and learn what he’s been doing. He’s been doing a great job. I just want to learn as much as I can from him.”

Smart pivot on Williams’ part, but the truth of the matter is that fifth-round pick Aaron Jones and seventh-round pick Devante Mays might have made the same slip were they not as measured in their comments. Truth of the matter is any one of the three rookies could be the Packers’ starting running back come September.

Montgomery holds the title now, but he hasn’t been toting the ball for even a full year yet and the possibility of someone with the natural running abilities of those three being the most effective back is not far-fetched.

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In four years at Stanford and two years in the NFL, Montgomery has carried the ball 144 times, including 105 for 562 yards and five touchdowns in the NFL. Williams carried 726 times in four years at BYU, Jones carried 658 times in three years at UTEP and Mays carried more than 250 times in two seasons at Utah State and two at Blinn (Texas) Junior College.

Right now, the running backs room consists of the three draft picks and undrafted free agent Kalif Phillips. When the veterans return, the only additions to the room will be Montgomery and fullbacks Aaron Ripkowski and Joe Kerridge.

Eddie Lacy is gone. James Starks is gone. Christine Michael is gone. Don Jackson is gone.

“It’s a unique challenge,” coach Mike McCarthy said after practice Friday. “I think you can look at it from both sides of the perspective. Obviously, inexperience is very high. Ty Montgomery is your veteran halfback and he made the transition last year. You look at Ripkowski and the importance he’s going to play in that room.

“The other side of it too is to have the competition between three, four players that all arrived the same year. That’s unique. That’s something that will stick with those guys particularly this year. That’s something you can build off. That motivation in the room, that’s not normal. I think that will be a benefit.”

It wasn’t planned this way, but Williams and Jones began the journey together well before their names were called in the draft. Both are clients of agent Leigh Steinberg, who invites all his present and past clients to his annual Super Bowl party in the host city.

Williams and Jones met there and quickly became friends. They are now roommates, too.

“We both played running back and it helps when you’ve got somebody else seeing a different viewpoint than you,” Jones said. “We just hit it off there and kept in contact and we’ve been friends ever since.”

They never expected they would be on the same team, however.

“Oh, no sir,” said Jones, who hails from a military family. “But doubly excited that we are on the same team because I get to go through this with one of my friends.”

All three backs have different styles. The 6-foot, 215-pound Williams is a power back who runs tall. The 5-9½, 208-pound Jones is a shifty runner who can catch the ball, too. The 5-10½, 230-pound Mays has powerful legs and runs low to the ground.

Montgomery is bigger (6-foot, 216 pounds) and a better athlete than any of the others. He was drafted in the third round for a reason. He already has shown he can play a part in McCarthy’s offense from the backfield, averaging 5.35 yards per carry in 24 career games.

The younger backs understand that he is the big fish in the pond. For now.

“He has natural running back ability and you can see it when you turn on the film,” Jones said. “He’s making quick cuts, making the right reads. Definitely a running back in my eyes.”

Even with Montgomery the appointed starter, there is opportunity and each of the backs, including the lesser-known Phillips, knows it. They watched tape with running backs coach Ben Sirmans this week of Lacy and Starks carrying the ball and are well aware neither will be in the room come Monday.

There was not much to interpret on the field Friday. It was mostly an introduction on how the team runs practices and where the players should go whenever the horn sounds. Williams fumbled a snap from tryout quarterback Drew Bauer, but other than that there wasn’t anything noteworthy about the practice.

“Right now, we’re just all trying to learn what’s going on, learn the formations, learn the plays and everything,” Mays said. “That’s pretty much it right now.”

The guy who makes the most of the OTAs and minicamp probably will get first crack at challenging Montgomery. Nothing will be decided until training camp is over, but the Packers have known pretty early on if there is a player who is going to stand out right away.

“It (the housecleaning at running back) gave us a great opportunity to come in — all the running backs who are here — and show out and do everything they can to get on the field,” Williams said. “It gives us more leeway, more opportunity to get on the field.

“But I still see it as an opportunity to prove myself to everybody.”

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