GREEN BAY – Ty Montgomery didn’t think anything of it. Neither did his coaches.
All the questions he fielded last year about whether a converted receiver could handle a full workload at running back were expected, but Montgomery and the Packers have continued into 2017 with no reservations.
That was apparent in Week 1 vs. Seattle, when Montgomery ran the ball 19 times and caught four passes for a total of 93 yards from scrimmage.
His 23 touches in one game were the most he’s had in his brief NFL career so far, and more than he had in any college contest at Stanford. His highs last season were 19 in the Thursday night game against the Bears in October and 18 after he took over the full-time backfield role down the stretch.
How did his somewhat remade 6-foot, 216-pound body hold up under greater demands?
“It felt good, and I feel good,” Montgomery said. “I like being effective, doing whatever it takes, and my body feels fine.”
Effective is a good way to describe Montgomery’s season-opening effort. It was a tough slog at times against Seattle’s stout defensive front, but Montgomery kept banging away, gaining the tough yards as often as he could.
His persistence paid off over time. While in the first half, none of his nine touches gained a first down, his 14 touches in the second half moved the chains five times and produced a 6-yard TD.
His only regret actually came on his biggest play. Early in the fourth quarter, he took a swing pass to the left, made a tackler miss and headed down the sideline for 20 yards.
Seattle cornerback Shaquill Griffin got a hold of the inside of his shoulder pad and swung him around to make the tackle. It was a borderline horse-collar foul, but Montgomery felt if he could have spun out of it, he might have taken it the distance.
“I wanted to score on that one,” he said. “I do take pride in yards after contact. That’s important at this position. It’s important to break tackles and get those extra yards.”
Yet Montgomery is very calculated in his thoughts, making sure he’s not so “stubborn” as to feel like he should run over every guy in his path. A good move in the open field, or something as simple as a forward lean, can pick up extra yards, too, without taking as big a toll on a body the Packers want healthy for four-plus months.
Yes, the Packers have plenty of reinforcements at running back, with three rookie draft picks on the 53-man roster all eager for their turn.
But none of the rookies presents the matchup problems Montgomery does when he motions out of the backfield into his “old” receiver position. His receiver skills on screen passes are hard to match, too.
So while the Seattle game might be just the start of the weekly workload he can expect, he’ll have ways to avoid taking too much of a beating.
“We continue to emphasize the fundamentals, and when you play with the proper pad level, you avoid certain collisions,” offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett said. “It’s also awareness.”
In Week 2, Montgomery will face an Atlanta defense that had trouble in Super Bowl LI with the multi-faceted game of Patriots running back James White, who caught a record 14 passes out of the backfield for 110 yards and two TDs before also rushing for the game-winning score in overtime.
Last week, Chicago rookie back Tarik Cohen posed similar problems, with eight catches for 47 yards and a TD in addition to 66 yards on the ground.
If there are ways the Packers can take advantage of matchup issues with Montgomery, they’ll certainly attack them. But for his part, Montgomery sees an Atlanta defense that poses no less a challenge than Seattle’s last week.
“I think we’re about to go against another fast, flowing defense,” he said. “They don’t have as many years under their belts playing together as Seattle does, but still, very athletic, very talented defense.”
Montgomery doesn’t have the years under his belt, either, but that won’t stop him from grinding away with whatever workload he’s assigned.
“I have to keep that mindset of being gritty and fighting for every yard I get,” he said. “Some yards come easier than others, and I’ll gladly take them.”