Ty Montgomery making smooth switch to RB

Rob Reischel
Special to Packer Plus
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High intelligence has helped Green Bay Packers running back Ty Montgomery make the rare transition from wide receiver to starting running back in the NFL.

Green Bay — St. Mark’s School of Texas is one of the elite college preparatory schools in the country.

The all-boys school in Dallas has produced seven Presidential Scholars since 2003. There were 22 National Merit Scholars in the Class of 2011 alone. And the St. Mark’s Class of 2016 had an average SAT score of 2,160 on a 2,400-point scale.

Stanford is, well, Stanford.

The private, research school in Stanford, Calif., is widely regarded as one of the world’s most prestigious universities. Just 4.65% of applicants are accepted at Stanford. And both Forbes and Washington Monthly ranked Stanford as “America’s Top College” in 2016.

Montgomery attended — and thrived — at both schools.

Montgomery posted an ACT score of 30, well ahead of the national average of 20.8. Montgomery, a political science major, more than held his own at Stanford.

Now, as Montgomery makes the remarkably unique switch from receiver to running back, his intelligence will play a major role in whatever success he may eventually find.

“Ty’s a smart dude,” said Packers tight end Richard Rodgers, who attended the University of Cal and is awfully bright himself. “Just in terms of study habits, it’s like going to school and carrying it through your life into this profession. With learning the plays and paying attention in the meetings, it’s big. It’s really big.”

There are a number of factors that will eventually determine if Montgomery can cut it in the backfield.

Strength. Speed. Vision. Pad level. Hands. Mental toughness.

But don’t underestimate the importance of intelligence.

Former Packers running back Brent Fullwood once scored a 4 on the 50-question Wonderlic test and never could grasp the mental side of football. Quarterback Jeff George was the first pick in the 1990 draft, despite scoring just a 10 on the Wonderlic. Quarterback Vince Young was the third pick in the 2006 draft, even though he scored a six on the Wonderlic. Both George and Young had remarkably disappointing careers.

Football acumen has always been a big part of the Packer Way under general manager Ted Thompson. In the last four drafts alone, Thompson has selected three players from Stanford, two from Cal, and one each from Northwestern, Wisconsin, Purdue and Michigan. All are considered academic juggernauts.

Montgomery’s lifetime of success in the classroom could go a long ways toward a successful move to the backfield. Although Montgomery hasn’t been asked to learn a new playbook, his responsibilities on every play are entirely different than this time 12 months ago.

And Montgomery’s quick mind has been integral in him playing fast on the field.

“Intelligence is definitely part of it,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said of Montgomery, whose Wonderlic score was 24. “The application of intelligence is the most important, and I think when you look at Ty, his instincts and awareness is at a very high level.

“Obviously he’s extremely intelligent, but the ability to apply the learning as far as playing in the backfield, out of the backfield, you can see the carryover from his ability to be a returner, the instincts to run kickoff returns definitely is very comparable as far as from a traits standpoint with the running back position. So it definitely helps.”

When Montgomery’s teammates talk about his positional switch, they immediately bring up Green Bay’s 30-27 win at Chicago in Week 15 last season.

Montgomery was magnificent that day with 162 rushing yards on 16 carries and two touchdowns. Montgomery broke four tackles on a 61-yard run, had a remarkable cutback on a 28-yard run, made a fantastic read to bounce outside on a 4-yard touchdown and hammered off of left guard for a 3-yard score.

“Obviously he put his stamp on things with that Chicago game,” Packers left guard Lane Taylor said. “I was like, ‘OK. He can play. He can play this position.’ It wasn’t the long runs either. It was instead of going to the ground, he was breaking tackles. He wasn’t getting pinged off of blocks. He was literally like carrying people. And that’s when I’d say I knew he could play running back.”

The devil’s in the details, though. And what people didn’t see was Montgomery’s countless hours of film study as he transitioned to a new role.

In many ways, all of the brutal exams Montgomery took at both Stanford and St. Mark’s had prepared him for this ultimate NFL test.

“I don’t think intelligence or where I came from is the one thing that separates me from somebody else,” said Montgomery, who also had collegiate offers from Cal, Notre Dame and Vanderbilt among others. “But I definitely think it helps.

“Still, at the end of the day, I think it’s about my ability to run the football, to keep my pad level low, to break tackles. But I’m sure some of that other stuff helped, too.”

Montgomery’s latest test is mastering pass protection, especially if he hopes to be a three-down back in 2017. Montgomery has struggled in that area at the outset of camp. And of course, nothing in Green Bay is of greater importance than keeping Aaron Rodgers upright.

As the question has gotten louder, Montgomery has admittedly become more agitated.

“I understand what it is. People have a lot of opinions about it, or doubts, or whatever. I get it,” Montgomery said. “(Pass protection) isn’t hard, but it’s been the hardest part of this switch. Logically, if you think about it, it’s something I’ve never had to do. That’s going to be the part that’s probably not going to come that naturally to me.”

If Montgomery can master that element of his game, he could be poised for a huge year.

Montgomery, who has forearms like “The Rock”, has added six pounds of muscle and now weighs 224 pounds. Montgomery trained four hours a day, five days a week this off-season. He appears just as fast.

“His jump from last year to this year has been significant,” Taylor said.

Montgomery’s gifts — both physical and mental — are rare. And they’ll need to be for Montgomery to excel.

“I know that guy is really smart,” Packers linebacker Joe Thomas said of Montgomery. “Then you look at that him and he’s so cut, so thick. He’s pretty much built like a running back. So you add it all up and you say, ‘This could just end up working out.’ ”

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