A quick overview of the Packers' offensive backfield heading into training camp. (July 21, 2017) Aaron Nagler | USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
GREEN BAY - Back in May and June, observers who lined the fences of Clark Hinkle Field may have noticed a distinct lack of running plays from the Green Bay Packers. Every practice during organized team activities and minicamp leaned heavily on the passing game, with quarterbacks, wide receivers and cornerbacks occupying center stage.
This was by design, according to coach Mike McCarthy, because the rules of the collective bargaining agreement preclude teams from wearing pads during spring. And common sense would tell you the absence of pads renders running plays rather trivial.
“We’re really focused on the passing game,” McCarthy said May 23. “ … The practice environment with the helmets and the shorts and the rules in place, the run game production is minimal as far as the quality of work. The quality of work is definitely higher in the environment of throwing the football, so we’re just taking a little more advantage of that.”
But the time for change arrived as the Packers reconvened for training camp earlier this week, and McCarthy made very clear the team’s intention to bolster the running game.
The balance of practice is about to change.
“We actually just reviewed some of the things that I’ve had time to go through this summer,” McCarthy said at his season-opening news conference Wednesday, “and we adjusted some things, particularly, just for the emphasis in the run game. You only have so much padded work. The reality of the OTA’s is you're limited to what you can do, so frankly, I think the quality of work for us this year, focusing primarily on the passing game was very good and you can see the improvement there.
“So with that we kind of do have to shift gears and make sure we’re giving the time (to the running game), particularly in pads, and that will start Saturday and into Family Night.”
Any maturation of the running game should be viewed through two distinct lenses over the course of training camp. The first belongs to Ty Montgomery, who was labeled the starter during OTAs. This is Montgomery’s first training camp as a full-time running back and a prime opportunity to reinforce — or tear down — the notion that a converted wide receiver can succeed as the No. 1 tailback for an entire season.
“He’s just stepped out in front and just keeps going,” McCarthy said. “ … He looks good. I’m very pleased with the way he has stepped up to the front of the class.”
The second lens is nearly as green as Montgomery. When general manager Ted Thompson declined to bring in a veteran running back to complement Montgomery, it became clear the Packers would need to address the issue through the draft. Thompson responded by using three of his 10 picks on tailbacks, with fourth-round choice Jamaal Williams being the highest selection.
In addition to Williams, who was a controversial star at Brigham Young, the Packers used a fifth-round pick on Aaron Jones from UTEP and a seventh-round pick on Devante Mays from Utah State. They also signed a pair of undrafted running backs in Kalif Phillips from Charlotte and William Stanback from Virginia Union.
Eventually, talent or injuries should separate one or two players from the proverbial pack to fall in line behind Montgomery.
“You just work through it,” McCarthy said. “The teaching part of it in the classroom, we’ve got the gymnasium walk-throughs and things like that. You’re really focused on doing more of that when you have that high — because we’re obviously very young at the running back position. That’s the stuff you focus on. The reps usually takes care of itself. Frankly, the players’ availability and their performance level each day really controls who gets the reps.”
There should be plenty of snaps to go around.