Jamaal Williams welcomes 'workhorse' role in Packers' uncrowded backfield
GREEN BAY – General manager Brian Gutekunst went and got a third running back for the Green Bay Packers on Monday, but it really wasn’t a move to help coach Mike McCarthy’s offense.
Darius Jackson, a third-year pro out of Eastern Michigan, will be on the practice field Wednesday after signing a free-agent deal with the Packers. Cut Saturday by the Dallas Cowboys, Jackson signed on to their practice squad, but the Packers called and gave him a chance to join their 53-man roster.
In the short term, he’ll be trained mostly for special teams work and in the long term, the Packers will try to tap into his top-level athleticism. At his pro day in 2016, the 6-foot 220-pound Jackson ran the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds, registered a 41-inch vertical and an 11-foot, 1-inch broad jump. He bench-pressed 225 pounds 20 times.
To make room for him on the 53-man roster, the Packers cut cornerback Herb Waters.
Jackson’s first order of business will be meeting his new best friend, special teams coach, Ron Zook.
“We’ve looked at him last night,” McCarthy said before the move was official. “I know our special teams coach spent a lot of time looking at his video today, so we’ll be ready for him when he gets here.”
On Wednesday, when the Packers resume practice for their season opener against the Chicago Bears, Jackson will join Jamaal Williams and Ty Montgomery in the least-crowded position meeting room in the building.
Williams and Montgomery were the only running backs left with spots on the 53 after Gutekunst cut everyone else, including fullbacks Aaron Ripkowski and Joe Kerridge. Second-year pro Aaron Jones was exempt because he is serving a two-game suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy.
Williams is the starter and though he carried just seven times during the exhibition season, he might see triple that total in what should be a very busy evening against the Bears.
“I like being a workhorse,” Williams said.
McCarthy will use Montgomery, too, but Williams is a far better pass protector and with the Bears adding Khalil Mack to an already formidable pass rush that features Leonard Floyd and Akiem Hicks, the Packers will need all pads on deck.
Jackson can be taught enough of the offense to be an emergency back but expecting him to run more than a few zone plays would be unrealistic. He’ll still be learning the offense when Jones returns, so his reason for being here right now is special teams.
The Cowboys drafted Jackson in the sixth round in’16 and he made their 53-man roster. But they gambled by putting him on waivers to make room for veteran running back Darren McFadden late in the season and were unable to sign him to the practice squad after Cleveland claimed him.
Jackson injured his knee in camp last year with the Browns and was put on injured reserve with the intent of releasing him. The Cowboys re-signed him in the offseason and he made a strong run at the 53-man roster, carrying 21 times for 72 yards and playing a decent amount of special teams snaps.
The Cowboys intended to stash him on their practice squad, but the Packers jumped in and offered him a spot on their 53. According to NFL rules, the Packers must keep him or pay him a minimum of three weeks salary because they signed him off a practice squad.
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Jackson has yet to carry in a regular-season game, so there isn’t a lot of film to study.
McCarthy acknowledged that with no fullbacks and only two ready halfbacks, he’ll be using personnel a little differently than in the past. It’s likely he’ll use tight end Lance Kendricks whenever he needs a fullback and he could take some pressure off the backs by using receiver Randall Cobb in the backfield.
But he exhibited no fear that he would run out of backs.
“I think those guys are ready to go, they’re healthy,” he said. “They give us an excellent 1-2 punch. So, I ’m not concerned about that at all.”