Rookie Aaron Jones staking a claim in Packers' running game
ARLINGTON, TEXAS – There’s a new running back in town and his name is Aaron Jones.
The Green Bay Packers don’t need him to learn the position or gain some strength or figure out how a zone blocking system works. As he showed in his first career start Sunday, the rookie from Texas-El Paso is ready-made for coach Mike McCarthy’s offense and deserves a lot more touches in the weeks to come.
“I’m very proud of Aaron Jones,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said after the Packers escaped AT&T Stadium with a 35-31 victory over the Dallas Cowboys. “He earned the opportunity and he produced.
"That’s what you look for in all your players, especially your young guys. This was his first chance to take a big load in the run game and I thought he played outstanding. I love his running style. Very productive.”
If there’s one thing a running back can do to encourage his offensive linemen to create holes for him over and over again, it’s to use the ones they’re creating now. And that’s exactly what Jones did in producing the team’s first 100-yard rushing game since Ty Montgomery gained 162 against Chicago on Dec. 18 of last year.
On a day when Montgomery was sidelined with broken ribs, Jones carried 19 times for 125 yards and a touchdown and caught one pass for 9 yards. He had 11 carries that resulted in 5 yards or more and just one that resulted in negative yardage.
“Aaron’s a good running back,” center Corey Linsley said. “We gave him the holes and he ran hard. A lot of the credit goes to him. We blocked it up and we did our jobs. He deserves a lot of that credit, too.”
Jones was inactive in his first game because, he was told, his special-teams play wasn’t up to snuff. He has been active ever since and got his first carries against Chicago last week after Montgomery left the game in the first quarter.
It did not take the Bears game to get Jones accustomed to what he might face in the NFL. He had been preparing for this day since he was drafted in the fifth round.
“You just always have to prepare as if you’re going to play,” said Jones, who had his NFL coming-out party in his home state. “I do the same thing every week. My number was called this week and I was ready.
“Just a lot of film, studying the playbook, asking a lot of questions to our running backs coach and just being a student of the game.”
In facing the Cowboys defense under coordinator Rod Marinelli, the offensive line had to deal with a lot of tall, mobile players up front. Dallas was missing their best defensive player, linebacker Sean Lee, but the Packers were missing their left tackle David Bakhtiari and playing guard Lane Taylor at tackle for the second straight week.
The key to creating some holes for Jones was taking advantage of the slanting the defensive line uses to penetrate through blocks.
"Running early, it was kind of a combination of us doing a good job handling their movement up front,” said right tackle Bryan Bulaga, who returned from a right ankle injury. “They give teams a lot of trouble with their movement.
“They do a good job moving D-linemen. Linebackers scrape off the top of that. I thought we did a good job handling movement. Picking it up, helping each other out, picking up some good chunks of yardage, keeping ourselves in good down and distances I thought.”
The difference between Jones and Montgomery and rookie Jamaal Williams appears obvious. Jones can beat defenders to the edge on outside runs and make jump cuts when the defense over-pursues and leaves a cutback lane.
Jones’ two touchdown runs this season were great examples of him shifting gears so he could make the best of the blocks in front of him.
"You could see the type of runner he was in training camp,” Bulaga said. “Kind of a little bit of that against Chicago. When he was out there today, you saw it again.
“He runs physically, he’s a smart runner, he sets up blocks. He’s a good football player.”
Jones’ play on a fast indoor track makes him a promising choice to handle the bulk of the carries next week at Minnesota. It’s possible Montgomery’s ribs will decide for McCarthy who starts against the Vikings on Sunday, but even if both are available, Jones is in line for another heavy dose of action.
“I have no clue,” Jones said when asked if the job was his. “I just go out every day as if I’m the third back, prepare like that and just work hard.”
Now it’s time for Jones to enjoy the spoils of his labor.