This is the second in a series of stories that’s examining the Packers’ roster, position by position, leading up to training camp. The series continues with the running backs.
GREEN BAY – It’s been a while since the Packers opened training camp not knowing who their No. 1 running back would be.
It isn’t in doubt for 2017, either, not with Head Coach Mike McCarthy announcing right after Green Bay drafted three running backs in late April that Ty Montgomery would head the group.
Montgomery transitioned from wide receiver and took over for the injured Eddie Lacy and James Starks around midseason last year. He rushed for 310 yards over the final five regular-season games, added two rushing touchdowns in the playoffs at Dallas, and did nothing during the offseason to suggest he would lose the top spot.
Montgomery spent OTAs and minicamp learning some finer points of pass protection from one of the best to ever handle the duty in Mike McCarthy’s offense, coaching intern and former running back Brandon Jackson. He also took on a leadership role in a young running back room despite entering his first season in the full-time role.
It’s his job to run with, literally and figuratively, leaving the question for the Packers in 2017 surrounding who’s No. 2.
There are candidates aplenty, with Green Bay selecting BYU’s Jamaal Williams (fourth round), UTEP’s Aaron Jones (fifth round) and Utah State’s Devante Mays (seventh round) on the final day of the draft.
Toss in undrafted rookies Kalif Phillips from Charlotte and William Stanback from Virginia Union and the competition promises to be intense from start to finish throughout the preseason.
Most of the attention will fall on the three draft picks, whose order on the depth chart so far is based on little more than draft status. Without pads in offseason workouts, running back is a difficult position to gauge until the carries and other duties are live in preseason action.
That said, all three draft picks have interesting backgrounds.
Williams was suspended for an honor code violation at BYU and could have transferred but chose to return. He went on to become the school’s all-time leading rusher.
Jones played in college with his twin brother, Alvin, a linebacker, and admittedly struggled with the decision to declare for the draft a year early. But with both the single-season and career rushing records at UTEP in his name, it was time to move on.
Mays took a long, tough road, trying two junior colleges in Texas before landing a Division I offer. He then battled through injuries last year just to get to this point, where he brings a compact, 230-pound frame without the wear and tear of most feature backs.
It’s anyone’s job to win, really, making this the most intriguing backfield battle in Green Bay since Lacy and Johnathan Franklin were drafted in 2013 and joined Starks on the roster.
At fullback, the Packers unveiled an emerging star and fan favorite last season in Aaron Ripkowski, the former sixth-round pick from Oklahoma who scored his first four pro touchdowns (three regular season, one postseason) in 2016.
Ripkowski is proving to be a more-than-adequate replacement for John Kuhn and has received hearty praise from quarterback Aaron Rodgers for doing whatever he’s asked and doing it well.
The Packers also carried a second fullback on the roster for the second half of last year. Joe Kerridge was an undrafted rookie from Michigan who showed his share of aptitude on special teams, and he’s back to try to re-earn his roster spot as well.
COUNTDOWN TO CAMP ROSTER SERIES
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