Dexter Williams 'won't miss a beat' contending with Packers' crowded backfield
Fewer than 30 days. That is all the time Green Bay Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst and head coach Matt LaFleur have to shape their team for 2020. There will be no preseason games and a balance to strike between getting starters necessary practice repetitions and finding out who else can impact the team.
“I think we’re going to have enough opportunity to evaluate these guys fairly,” Gutekunst said. “There’s going to be a lot of opportunities for them. But, again, I think being in games and being able to make those decisions under the kind of pressure that a real game brings with 85,000 in Lambeau, that’s hard to replicate.”
One of those players looking to take advantage of those crafted chances on the practice fields is running back Dexter Williams, the Packers’ sixth-round pick out of Notre Dame a year ago. He is entering camp with a very simple goal: “Just show that I can play at this level.”
“I felt like there weren’t a lot of things I was able to show because we had two hot running backs in Jamaal (Williams) and Aaron Jones,” Williams told PackersNews.com. “They were having real great, real good seasons, so you had to sit back and watch. This year I want to be able to contribute and show the team and my teammates that really I can play on this level and anything they ask of me I can do just like the other guys. Really, whatever they ask me to do I want to show I can do it at any level and really just do it at my best.”
At this time a year ago, Williams showed the one-cut speed coveted in a wide-zone running scheme during training camp. In the exhibition season he rushed 37 times for 128 yards and a score.
Off that, he was one of three running backs to make the team out of camp.
Yet as the regular season wore on he struggled with pass catching during drills in practice portions open to the media and rarely saw the field.
When Jamaal Williams missed a game due to a concussion, the Packers turned to journeyman Tra Carson in Dallas (10 touches, 18 yards) before releasing him 10 days later.
- RELATED: Davante Adams OK with being a 'hermit'
- DOUGHERTY: Keeping Aaron Rodgers off COVID list must be priority
- RELATED: Aaron Rodgers ready to ramp up intensity in practices
“Dex has been doing a real good job but now we’ve got no proof of anything,” running backs coach Ben Sirmans said of the decision to bypass Williams for Carson in early October. “There’s no preseason game to throw him into. We wanted to go more with a guy that’s played a lot more football, a guy that’s been put in these situations before and we felt a lot more comfortable going with a guy like Tra from that standpoint as opposed to putting Dex in that position.”
Jones and Jamaal Williams remained healthy and in December, Tyler Ervin was added to the running back room to boost the return game. By the end of that month he had played 24 offensive snaps over the final two regular-season games.
Williams’ rookie campaign would end with four games played, five carries and 38 special teams snaps.
This offseason the Packers re-signed Ervin and drafted Boston College’s AJ Dillon at in the second round.
Heading into this unique training camp, Williams finds himself having to show out in practice to rise above the numbers game.
“It’s a business and just whatever Green Bay’s decision is they’re going to go with it,” he said. “I just have to continue to do me. I can’t get caught up in the tension and really the publicity and all that. All I can do is just focus on me and what I can do and the things I bring to the team. So, just finding that way on the field and being able to solidify your spot on the team, that’s been my main focus.”
Barring injuries or a trade, there are roster locks at running back in Jones, Jamaal Williams and Dillon. Ervin, as the incumbent kick and punt returner, feels like one.
Also crowding the backfield are undrafted runners Damarea Crockett and Patrick Taylor and fullback John Lovett.
Dexter Williams may not have the benefit of getting preseason game carries, but he believes having a full year under his belt gives him an advantage in executing the offense to a greater degree.
“Everything is real fresh,” he said. “I know I won’t miss a beat. And a lot of things I was still able to get done, running through plays with simulations, running routes. I was still able to simulate things. I would have a quarterback out there and he would call the plays. I was still able to work on these things on and off the field and just keep refreshing my memory with all the football knowledge and in the playbook and whatever else to help my game to excel. I just had to find ways to work around the problems and just adapt to my environment.”
The problems were the training facility shutdowns and May and June camp cancellations created by the coronavirus. Williams needed that experience with the playbook to fall back as he had to isolate himself.
His mother Cheryl has been at high risk, as she suffers from the neuromuscular disorder myasthenia gravis as well as a terminal illness, pulmonary arterial hypertension. And, Williams is going to be a father soon.
- RELATED: Packers confident young WR group ready to take 'next step'
- SILVERSTEIN: NFL fighting futile battle against relentless foe
- RELATED: Brian Gutekunst stresses 'dependability factor' of players
“It was actually kind of difficult,” Williams said of the last few months. “I really couldn’t be around (my mom). I really couldn’t bring anyone else around her. She couldn’t be around anyone. It was kind of difficult not being around daily like all the time. My parents are up in age so you really don’t want to risk the chance of giving them coronavirus.
"Then on top of that the working-out situation, a lot of facilities had shut down. At one point in time in Orlando the rates were just unbelievable, how many people tested positive. Finding somewhere to work; you couldn’t really work around a lot of people because you want to stay healthy and keep your body healthy as well as you don’t want to risk getting other people sick. So just a lot of things I did on my own. I still was able to get the work in and I just tried to just adapt to my environment and get used to the new changes.
Williams finds himself in uncharted waters this August.
“My head is in a very unique place," Williams said. "I have a lot of family support but I’m not really worried about what may happen because at the same time I have no control of that. I only can control what I can control and just really take every day, day by day, and just give it my best. So I try not to really look into the future. ... Just going out each and every day and just showing what I bring to the table.”