GREEN BAY — What started as an experiment born out of necessity has resulted in Ty Montgomery officially shifting from receiver to running back.
Less than 24 hours after Montgomery scored his first rushing touchdown in Sunday’s 38-10 win over Seattle, Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy announced the change to Montgomery’s job title during his Monday news conference.
The declaration is a formality at this point. Montgomery has been attending running backs meetings for most of the season and taken most of his snaps over past two months out of the backfield.
Montgomery helped spark the offense out of the backfield over the past several games. He gained 41 yards on nine carries and 45 yards on three receptions in his 30 snaps against the Seahawks.
He’s averaging 5.2 yards per carry on 44 attempts this season, providing much-needed production for an offense that’s been without Pro Bowl running back Eddie Lacy for the past eight games.
“I used to joke in college and when I got here a little bit that I’m a running back who learned how to play receiver,” Montgomery said. “Who would have thought I ended up in the running back room?”
Montgomery said McCarthy approached him earlier this season about learning the position. Running back wasn’t foreign to Montgomery. He played there throughout most of his childhood before getting to high school.
He only made the switch to receiver because of the pass-heavy system his high school ran at the time.
“My ball coach in high school asked me if I would play receiver to help,” Montgomery said. “I was like, ‘Yeah, I’ll do anything to play varsity.’ He was like, ‘To be honest, we’re not going to run the ball so we’re just going to have you play receiver.’ I was like ‘OK.’”
Despite not having prototypical size for a receiver (6-0, 216), Montgomery drew interest from Stanford as a receiver after catching 118 passes and 36 touchdowns at St. Mark’s School of Texas in Dallas.
Montgomery didn’t care what position he played. His dream was simply to play college football. He carried the ball 34 times for 334 yards and four touchdowns at Stanford, but saw most of his work as a receiver where he caught 172 passes for 2,125 yards and 15 TDs in four years with the Cardinal.
A third-round pick a year ago, Montgomery stayed at that spot during his rookie year with the Packers until an ankle injury he sustained against San Diego in Week 6 ultimately ended his season.
With the Packers in a pinch without Lacy or James Starks, Montgomery told McCarthy he was open to working with running backs coach Ben Sirmans about relearning the position.
Offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett said he doesn’t recall the exact conversation about Montgomery making a move, but he remembers how the second-year player reacted to the news.
“I do recall a young man being excited to have the opportunity to play more, excited to have more of a role,” Bennett said. “He’s certainly one of the guys who have made the most of his opportunities. You look at what we were able to accomplish this past game, broke a lot of tackles, played with very good balance and accelerated his feet on contact.”
During the pre-draft process, Bennett, receivers coach Luke Getsy and the Packers’ personnel department were all impressed by Montgomery’s production and versatility.
The initial conversation about Montgomery learning running back was meant to give the offense an extra “tool” in its arsenal, but injuries soon dictated otherwise.
Montgomery gained 126 total yards on 19 touches in his first full-fledged game in the backfield against Chicago on Oct. 20 and then racked up 91 total yards on 10 touches two weeks later against Indianapolis.
“It felt really natural, personally,” Montgomery said. “Nothing too difficult. Just learning all the language. It is a different language, for sure. I don’t worry about coverage anymore. I worry about fronts. Coverages are still coverages. Now I’m learning about fronts and different blitzes.”
Montgomery calls Sirmans “crucial” to him learning on the fly in-season and understanding everything he needs to know to operate out of the backfield. The two spent time together before and after meetings to make sure both were on the same page at all times.
It was a similar scenario for the offensive line, which has had to make an adjustment to Montgomery’s running style.
“Ty’s a good player. He’s a strong kid,” center Corey Linsley said. “It just took us honestly a few days to understand where he’s going to hit the hole and what he’s looking for. Being in communication with him, telling him and giving him advice, he’s been very receptive to that.
“The biggest thing is communication, all the time. Letting him know what we’re doing up front and him being able to adjust his vision or plan off that.”
While he might be a running back, Montgomery said he’ll continue to wear No. 88 for the remainder of the season since NFL rules dictate that players cannot change numbers midseason.
Asked about whether he’ll switch to a running back number next year, Montgomery was noncommittal. For the moment, he’s enjoying his time in the running back room and helping the offense in any way possible.
“I’ll cross that bridge when I get there,” said Montgomery about whether he’ll swap numbers. “I don’t know, 88 is unique, but it’d be cool to get a running back number so we’ll see.”