GREEN BAY — Ahman Green followed Ty Montgomery’s transformation closely last season.
The Packers’ all-time leading rusher watched intently as the second-year playmaker evolved from a reserve receiver in August to Green Bay’s starting running back by December.
Learning the position on the fly, Montgomery absorbed an offseason of information in a matter of weeks to guide the Packers’ backfield after the loss of veterans Eddie Lacy and James Starks to injury.
Impressed with his new back’s production, Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy said after the season ended Montgomery will remain at running back moving forward.
Green, who’s one of six current and former Packers participating on this year’s Tailgate Tour, is convinced the organization made the right call for all parties involved.
“I thought he did a phenomenal job,” said Green of Montgomery. “To do that, to ask a wide receiver to come play running back, or ask any player to come switch positions, is tough, because you don’t train for that in the offseason.”
McCarthy told reporters at last week’s owners meetings in Phoenix he believes Montgomery “has that ability” to be a No. 1 running back after rushing for 548 yards and five touchdowns on 102 carries last season (including playoffs).
Montgomery’s 5.9 yards per carry were the most among running backs with at least 70 carries during the regular season, though it wasn’t enough attempts to officially qualify as the league leader.
His background as a receiver also came in handy out of the backfield. Montgomery’s 44 catches for 348 yards ranked fourth on the team behind starting receivers Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams and Randall Cobb.
While the Packers plan on adding more backs over the next month – they currently have three under contract – McCarthy likes the matchup possibilities Montgomery gives the offense.
“Obviously it’s a very heavy-lifting position so availability will be Ty’s No. 1 statistic,” McCarthy said. “He’s a very talented young man, very bright, obviously understands the whole perimeter part of the offense now, so his utilization and the variation that he gives us as far as alignments and assignments and the different things that he can do will definitely benefit us as far as our offensive scheme.”
Montgomery, who had some experience as a running back in grade school, looked the part when the Packers threw him into the fire last October against Chicago. He finished with 126 total yards on 19 touches in a 26-10 Green Bay victory.
Montgomery credited running backs coach Ben Sirmans for hastening his development amidst his mentorship of more than a dozen pupils during Sirmans’ first season in Green Bay.
Both McCarthy and Green agree Montgomery should benefit from a full offseason at running back, learning the finer points of the position, and how to best utilize his strength and quickness as a ball carrier.
“It’s going to be great for him,” Green said. “He’s going to have time now to get in the playbook and look at it differently, look at it from a running-back standpoint, and learn his responsibilities in the run game, in the pass game, and wherever else the team might need to use him.”
Green, who broke Jim Taylor’s 43-year-old franchise record for career rushing yards in 2009, finished with 8,322 rushing yards in his eight seasons with the Packers.
That record appears to be safe for the foreseeable future with Lacy (3,434 yards in four seasons) signing with Seattle as an unrestricted free agent last month.
Lacy’s departure and Starks’ release leave Montgomery, Christine Michael and second-year running back Don Jackson as the three running backs on the roster, though fullback Aaron Ripkowski also proved capable as short-yardage option.
The Packers still have plenty of ways to bolster the backfield with several capable veterans on the market and the draft only three weeks away.
“Well, we’re short,” said McCarthy at the owners meetings. “I think that’s obvious. We’re going to have more running backs here in a month when we hit the OTAs here in phase two, the middle of May. After the rookie orientation camp, I think our roster will definitely reflect differently. We have work to do there.”