Packers rookie running back Kylin Hill a roster lock, but playing time will be tough to find
GREEN BAY - As impressive as Green Bay Packers rookie running back Kylin Hill was during the exhibition season, two things come to mind when projecting his playing time in the regular season.
Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon.
Hill is a lock for the 53-man roster after carrying 19 times for 64 yards and a touchdown and catching four passes for 40 yards and a touchdown in three games. Pile on top of that the fact he may be the starting kick returner and showed all-out hustle on other special teams units and you’d think he’d have a role Week 1 against New Orleans.
The only problem is he’s behind an 1,100-yard rusher who caught 47 passes and scored 11 total touchdowns and a 6-foot, 247-pound second-round pick who averaged 5.3 yards per carry in a truncated season due primarily to a COVID-19 infection.
Guaranteeing Hill any playing time when you have one of the NFL’s best all-around backs is hard enough in itself. Dillon started to come on late in the year and it became a bit of a one-two punch.
“I think for the most part, you just want to keep the same approach with them,” running backs coach Ben Sirmans said. “It's something that has worked for us.
“Game to game, you know, anything can happen. I mean, you may have an idea and, ‘Okay, here's what we want to do with them. Here's how many times we want to make sure he (Jones) has the ball in his hands. You just know that anytime the ball is in his in his hands you’ve got for a lot of production.”
Coach Matt LaFleur has figured out ways to use multiple players at a single position and it’s possible he will come up with some packages for Hill. Last year, he used Tyler Ervin as a slot receiver and a running back and used Josiah Deguara and Dominique Dafney as tight ends and fullbacks.
Hill’s performance this summer will be in his thoughts, it’s just a matter of finding the right time and situation to use him.
“It all comes down to different choices,” LaFleur said. “What do you choose? What do you want to do? And how are you going to get all these guys the ball? That's something that we weigh every week and I think a lot of times it has a way of naturally kind of working itself out.
“But you’d rather have a lot of playmakers than no playmakers, so we'll figure it out as we go.”
The thing that Sirmans does know is that Hill has true running back instincts and ability. He saw that the times he burst through holes or patiently waited for one to open up. He saw him use his blocks on screens and at least make an effort in blocking oncoming rushers.
“The biggest thing is his overall instincts,” Sirmans said. “As a runner, am I able to anticipate, set blocks up and understand how to go slow and accelerate right at the right time. Plus, he's really tough and has a great, a great demeanor.”
Early line on the line
LaFleur said he had a pretty good idea who his starting offense line will be against the Saints.
But, he said, “that is something that I’m not willing to share right now.”
It’s not that much of a mystery given the way the offense lined up in practice and the loss to Buffalo on Saturday. The two guard spots are what have been up for competition all camp long and if it’s not the combination of Lucas Patrick at left guard and Royce Newman at right guard, then it will be a surprise.
MORE: Offensive line starters, final roster spot and other takeaways from Bills game
MORE: Bills 19, Packers 0: More highs and lows for Jordan Love in preseason finale
The one curve that could be thrown is the return of left tackle David Bakhtiari to the lineup. Bakhtiari has spent the entire camp on the physically unable to perform list rehabbing a left ACL tear and LaFleur was not saying what the team’s plan was with him.
The Packers must either count him as one of their 53 on Tuesday or keep him on the physically unable to perform list and not have him for the first six weeks of the season.
When Bakhtiari returns, Elgton Jenkins will move back from left tackle to left guard and it would most likely be either Newman or Patrick at right guard.
The coaches are hoping that quarterback Jordan Love learned something from the two bad decisions he made, one of which cost them potential points when he was intercepted in the end zone.
LaFleur said he hoped the mistakes would remain in Love’s memory banks so the next time it comes up he knows not to just chuck the ball into a crowd like he did on the interception.
Quarterbacks coach Luke Getsy tried to explain it to him this way:
"I just said, ‘Hey, dude, look, it's only 13-0. You've had 200 yards of offense in the first half, you're kicking butt. Look at how important the ball is in this league,’” Getsy said. “It’s those moments, when you just kind of sit back and just say, ‘Look, this thing can be 13-10, or whatever.’
“That's what he didn't get last year not having preseason and all that stuff. So, really glad he was able to get that. To me that’s the biggest thing, taking in the whole picture and seeing how valuable the ball was, and just let's move on. Let's get to the next play and see what happens from here."