Nickel: Packers running back Aaron Jones 'more determined' to find the end zone during final four games of season

Lori Nickel
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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GREEN BAY − Teammates. Gone. Friends. Off. Media. Out. Lambeau? Ghosted.

But not Aaron Jones − and the Green Bay Packers training and medical staff.

While nearly everyone else had some kind of bye week escape plans – even if it was with a screen and a couch – during the long-awaited Week 14 break, Jones stuck around the Green Bay area, and it wasn’t for the wings at AC Tap in Door County.

Jones had been enduring a nagging shin injury that finally bumped him out of the Packers-Bears game Dec. 4. So Jones chose to remain in Green Bay, sacrificing the week off, to come in every morning for treatment. Tedious, petty, boring but essential treatment. Because winter is here.

“You’ve got to get your body right, you’ve got to be able to play,” Jones said after practice Thursday. “These guys depend on me. I can’t let them down.”

Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones celebrates a December 2021 victory over Cleveland.

‘Tis the season. For Green Bay running backs and Wisconsin football in Lambeau. Whether it is sub-freezing temps, snowy and sleet-y precipitation or the worst – wind – the running backs have to be the anchor of any Packers offense every year, but especially for this 5-8 club that needs to win out for a chance to make the playoffs. Three of the final four games are at home.

So here’s the question: Will Jones, who has just two rushing touchdowns for the year, get more?

“It’s crazy. It’s crazy,” Jones said. “I will have some more by the end of the year.”

Aaron Jones knows how to acclimate to Green Bay winters

Though he’s only 28 years old, he feels a lot like the rest of us when it gets cold and damp in Wisconsin: achy and sore. And tired.

“100%,” Jones said. “When it’s cold, your muscles don’t run the same way. And it’s hard to drink water when it’s cold outside.”

So Jones is serious about the getting his body … winterized.

  • Once a week during a Packers padded practice, Jones goes without the long sleeves “because I don’t play with sleeves in the game. So I practice how I play.”
  • When he's out and about, Jones doesn’t wear a jacket. Just an undershirt and a hoodie, to get acclimated to the weather.
  • Inside Lambeau, he hops from the hot tub to the cold tub, back and forth. The hope is to train the body, including the central nervous system, to adapt quickly from the cold temperatures while playing to the heated areas on the sideline.

“You just try to get used to it,” he said. “Once your adrenaline gets running, it’s not bad. But … the ground and the ball is harder. You can tell when you get taken to the ground.”

There just is no preparing for that. All Jones can do is rely on five previous Decembers to brace for the cement-like turf and curling stone-like ball.

“December football at Lambeau, there’s nothing like it,” Jones said. “A lot of teams aren’t used to coming in and playing in the cold weather. We get to practice in it; that’s one of the advantages.

“Guys think about it when they come down to tackle. It hurts them, too, to tackle, when they hit that ground. So they think about it a little bit more. And that’s all I need – is a second of you thinking. I’m out of there.”

Emerging receiver corps could help Packers running game

The Packers have all six receivers back and healthy this week for the first time since Week 2. Could that help Jones and running mate AJ Dillon? The emergence of Christian Watson, and the health and depth of the position should force opposing defenses to respect both the Green Bay pass and run, and that in theory will open up the field. The question is, will it give the running backs more opportunities?

This is a best estimate here but Jones has had one carry inside the 5-yard line this year, where he was denied.

Then Jones had a touchdown run called back on Nov. 27 at Philadelphia on a bizarre erroneous holding call on his favorite lineman, Elgton Jenkins. The pancake block made grown men weep, it was so good. But Jones and the Packers were denied.

“It was an amazing block,” Jones said. “Elgton doesn’t take any BS. He will stand up for anybody on this team. He plays with a mean nasty streak that you want an offensive lineman to play with. But he has the biggest heart off the field. The nicest guy. Spent the past couple of Thanksgivings with him. He makes sure I am always good.”

For a great running back, this has been a strange year for Jones. How is it possible that he's got just two rushing touchdowns this season? He has six overall − not bad considering the Packers have only 30 offensive touchdowns total. Jones had 16 rushing touchdowns in 2019. He had nine in 2020.

With a 5.2-yards-per-carry average, Jones is tied for fourth in the NFL among running backs. He clearly wants more TDs. But if he doesn’t get them, he will be OK – as long as someone scores.

“I’m more determined. I don’t get down. Sometimes we will put AJ in,” said Jones, motioning to Dillon's locker. “He’s a bigger back. I’ve seen him carry people on his back. To me, it’s all about winning. I know he’s capable of it so whenever they put him in I’m cheering for it. Get in that end zone."

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