Former Packers free spirit Jamaal Williams still 'just having fun' with Lions
GREEN BAY – When Aaron Jones’ star exploded early in his career, it could have become a tense situation for the Green Bay Packers.
He wasn’t the only running back the Packers drafted in their 2017 class. One round and 48 picks earlier, they selected Jamaal Williams. It was apparent early in their careers Jones would become the star. He rushed for 105 yards on 19 carries in is first preseason, a 5.53-yard average. Williams rushed for 61 yards on 25 carries, a 2.44-yard average.
Still, Williams was the fourth-round pick. He played in his first career game, a Week 1 home matchup against the Seattle Seahawks. Jones was a healthy scratch, left on the inactive list. Williams finished his rookie season with 556 rushing yards. Jones had 448.
It’s Jones who remains with the Packers. He has become one of the NFL’s best running backs, entering 2021 after consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. Williams signed this offseason with the Detroit Lions after the Packers did not try to retain him in free agency.
Now he’ll return to the stadium where he spent his first four NFL seasons, playing against the team that drafted him, when the Packers host the Lions on Monday night inside Lambeau Field. Williams was asked about his homecoming this week – and his answer did not disappoint.
“Y’all act like I left on my own, golly,” Williams quipped. “I didn’t do it. Shoot. If I could’ve stayed, I could’ve stayed. If I can’t, they don’t want me, like that ex-girlfriend – shoot, I’ve gotta go. Gladly, I’ve got a rebound, it was the Lions. They picked me up. You know what I mean? Now they’re feeding me good, taking me to dinners. Another man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”
Then Williams snapped out of character.
“I’m just having fun, man," he said. "It’s part of life. You’re going to have those type of rejections. You’re going to get turned down. People ain’t going to want you. When you get your shot and opportunity again from somebody who will give you your shot, you’ve just got to take that opportunity, be grateful for it and make it count.”
It was a glimpse at the playful personality Williams used to defuse any situation, no matter how potentially awkward. Naturally, Williams was asked if he had any extra motivation this week, a chip on his shoulder perhaps, as he returns to the team that turned him away. He said revenge was never on his menu as he decided a new NFL team this spring. The two-year, $6 million deal the Lions offered was simply too much to turn down.
If Williams wasn’t the Packers top running back, he was their joy. Whether he was dancing through warmups on the field or goofing through interviews with reporters, nobody on their roster had more fun. That fun hasn’t stopped just because he’s wearing a different uniform. During his interview this week, two reporters tried to ask a question simultaneously.
Williams stopped the interview and forced the reporters to determine who would go first. His method of choice? A game of rock-paper-scissors. Best of three.
His antics will be missed inside the Packers' locker room. It’s why Williams will be welcomed with open arms from players and coaches this week, even if he’s on the opposite sideline.
“I think the first thing that hits my brain,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said, “is just what a great teammate he was. It’s rare when you have two running backs come in the same class. Obviously, the majority of the time, only one guy is out there. To see him cheer on whoever else was in there, that’s pretty special. He is a great teammate, certainly somebody that we miss, but it’s just part of the deal in this league.
“Just a guy that we all have a lot of love and respect for.”
Nobody has more respect for Williams than the running back drafted behind him. Jones said his former teammate is more of a brother, someone he could confide in throughout the past four seasons, especially off the field. They were roommates in their first training camp. When both made the 53-man rosters as rookies, they moved into the same apartment complex. “Pretty much next-door neighbors,” Jones said. Later, Jones and Williams moved side by side into the same duplex.
“We became brothers over that time,” Jones said. “He’s been there for me through a lot and helped me develop as a player, helped me develop my game and pushed me. That’s something we would try to do every time we stepped on the field, is push each other.”
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Jones said he last saw Williams before camp opened. They talk every week. Yes, even this week. Their conversations are no different now. They speak more about life than football, leaning on each other off the field.
Of course, their conversation before Monday night’s game will be unlike any they’ve had before.
“It’s going to be a little different,” Jones said. “I’m used to his locker being next to mine, seeing hi in the green and yellow. Seeing him in a blue jersey will be different.”
Williams finds himself in another two-tailback system with the Lions. He started last week’s Lions opener against the San Francisco 49ers, but D’Andre Swift’s 11 carries led the team. Williams still finished as the Lions leading rusher with 54 yards on nine rushes, including a 1-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter of a 41-33 loss.
It’s uncertain how the Lions backfield reps will balance Monday night. Williams surely would like to find the end zone again. If he crosses the goal line, Williams isn’t likely to stop there.
“I might just jump into some Lions fans,” Williams said, “but I still might Lambeau Leap. I’m thinking about it.”
Jerry Montgomery sidelined
Packers defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery will not be available for Monday night’s game against Detroit because of COVID-19 protocols, the team said. His duties will be split among defensive quality control coach Wendel Davis, inside linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti and outside linebackers coach Mike Smith.
Safety Darnell Savage is listed as questionable against the Lions with a shoulder injury that knocked him out of last week’s opener against the New Orleans Saints.
Savage practiced throughout the week, including Saturday.
Left guard Lucas Patrick was listed as questionable with a concussion. Patrick practiced Saturday after missing the previous two days, a sign he’s trending in the right direction.
Tight end Josiah Deguara is listed as doubtful with a concussion. Deguara did not practice this week.
Safety Vernon Scott has been ruled out of a second straight game to start the season because of a hamstring injury. Scott returned to practice this week, listed as limited in each of the team’s three sessions, but was not given the green light to return.