GREEN BAY — NFL seasons rarely turn out as planned.
Just ask Ty Montgomery.
No matter how much a team prepares itself for every possible scenario, it’s still destined to face unforeseen trials and tribulations throughout the course of a campaign.
There was no better example than when the Packers had to bounce back on a short week last October to host Chicago on Thursday Night Football.
Four days earlier, Green Bay suffered a 30-16 loss to the red-hot Dallas Cowboys. Not only was a frustrating defeat, but the Packers also lost running back Eddie Lacy for the season with an ankle injury.
Injuries to Lacy and veteran James Starks prompted the Packers to hand the ball to Montgomery, a converted receiver who made his first career start in the backfield against Chicago.
A month earlier, the former third-round pick worried whether he’d even make the Packers’ roster in the first place after an ankle injury ended his rookie season in 2015.
The change in job description opened new doors for Montgomery, who touched the ball 19 times against the Bears for 126 total yards in a 26-10 victory for the Packers.
It was a sign of things to come for Montgomery, who went on to lead the Packers in rushing with 457 yards and three touchdowns on 77 carries (5.9 yards per attempt).
“I think the season was a learning lesson for me,” said Montgomery at the end of the season. “Trying to make the team coming off an injury and a surgery to feeling like I barely made the team, and then switching positions in the middle of the season at this level to the type of position I switched to. God is good. He’s brought me through a lot.”
Montgomery is one of several young playmakers who enjoyed breakthrough campaigns in an offense that finished eighth in total offense, seventh in passing and fourth in scoring.
Another player who came into 2016 with something to prove was third-year receiver Davante Adams, who was hobbled by a persistent ankle injury during most of the 2015 campaign.
After a healthy and productive offseason, Adams quickly became a go-to target for quarterback Aaron Rodgers. In the same Chicago game Montgomery busted on the scene, Adams came within one catch of tying Don Hutson’s 74-year-old franchise record for most receptions in a single outing.
Adams finished with 13 catches for 132 yards and two touchdowns in the win over the Bears, the first of his five 100-yard performances in 2016.
While he came three yards shy of his first 1,000-yard season, Adams was second to only fellow receiver Jordy Nelson for the most touchdown receptions in the NFL (12).
“Last year he wasn’t healthy,” said Rodgers shortly after the Bears game. “And this year he’s been healthy and he’s playing the way that we projected him to play last year when we said that he was the MVP of training camp and he was coming along and going to be a star.”
As much as Adams felt he had to prove, perhaps nobody on the offensive side of the ball was under more of a microscope than fourth-year offensive lineman Lane Taylor.
An undrafted free agent out of Oklahoma State in 2013, the fourth-year veteran started only two games in his first three NFL seasons before the Packers tabbed Taylor as their new left guard during the week of the season-opener in Jacksonville.
Taylor had big shoes to fill after the release of three-time Pro Bowler Josh Sitton on cut-down day. Yet, Taylor’s name rarely was mentioned after a solid showing in Week 1.
It stayed that way the rest of the year. The 6-foot-3, 324-pound guard started all 19 games (including playoffs), playing all but two offensive snaps during the regular season.
“You have to remember Lane took a lot of reps (in 2015),” said offensive line coach James Campen during the season. “He would fill in a lot for both guards, so he got a lot of work with David (Bakhtiari) and the centers. So that doesn’t surprise me from that standpoint.”
When injuries hit down the stretch, the Packers needed to rely on their young talent to step into more prominent roles. Second-year fullback Aaron Ripkowski rushed for 150 yards and two touchdowns on 34 attempts this past season after carrying the ball only six times in four seasons at Oklahoma.
Undrafted free agent Geronimo Allison began the season on the practice squad before receiving an October promotion to the active roster. He played sparingly until Randall Cobb injured his ankle in Week 15 against Chicago.
The 6-foot-3, 202-pound receiver proceeded to play 223 of his 302 offensive snaps in the last five games of the season, catching 14 passes for 222 yards and a touchdown during that stretch.
“It’s a blessing,” said Allison late in the season. “I say that time and time again. It’s a blessing to be in this locker room and be with this organization, and make plays, and play under Aaron – it’s a blessing. I can’t say that enough.”
Injuries happen and new playmakers must emerge. The teams that adapt to the ebb and flow of a season typically are the same ones still in Super Bowl contention in January.
When the team reflects back on its 2016 season, it’ll remember the second- and third-year players who helped keep them in that chase for a championship.