GREEN BAY – Of all the NFL debuts being made Thursday night, rookie receiver Ty Montgomery’s might be the Packers’ most intriguing, given what has transpired in the first 10 practices of training camp.
A third-round draft pick in a deep receiving corps, Montgomery has made play after play in practice, conjuring thoughts of how Aaron Rodgers might involve him in the offense behind his “three studs,” as Rodgers put it. Montgomery also enters the preseason opener in New England as Green Bay’s No. 1 kickoff returner charged with reviving the league’s 31st-ranked unit.
“He can stick his foot in the ground and go,” special teams coordinator Ron Zook said of Montgomery, whom he considered one of the top two return men coming out of the college ranks this spring.
“I always talk as a kickoff returner, you have to be able to run through the smoke. When you’re running up in there, you have to hit it, and he did that. That’s impressive to me. You have to run through the smoke.”
Any receiver for Rodgers also has to clear any fog in his head about the scheme, routes and adjustments. In Tuesday’s practice, Rodgers was counseling Montgomery about his release at the line of scrimmage on a red-zone route, the kind of knowledge the Stanford alum has soaked up at every opportunity.
“Ty’s a great kid with a bright future for us, a great disposition and attitude about the game,” Rodgers said. “He’s hungry to learn and get better, it’s good moments like that where he can hear it from me how we’re expecting that route to be run, just like when he hears it from Jordy or Randall. That’s where he can lock that away and really make some gains.”
Rodgers also has advice for his backup quarterbacks, who will see the bulk of the action against the Patriots. Be prepared for things to go a little haywire in the preseason.
Ideally that won’t happen much if at all with the Packers’ second unit, which has three offensive linemen with pro experience (Don Barclay, Lane Taylor and JC Tretter). With QB Scott Tolzien, the operation “should look the same as Aaron,” according to position coach Alex Van Pelt, based on Tolzien’s growth and knowledge of the system.
“To me, it’s a team game. That’s what I’m looking forward to the most, being out there with the 10 other guys,” Tolzien said. “It’s kind of our show. The coaches are on the sideline and we get to trust that work we’ve put in.
“First and foremost you’re trying to prove yourself, but I don’t think you want to blow the game out of proportion.”
Those words are good for rookie QB Brett Hundley to keep in mind. With third and fourth units on the field, he’ll have to manage others’ hiccups and blunders as well as his own, because they’re guaranteed to happen.
“That’s a real fact,” Van Pelt said. “You’d like for it to be as smooth as the first couple groups, but you’ve got young guys playing in their first one. Their eyes are big.
“You do tell a lot about a quarterback when they’re faced with those adverse situations and how they respond to it. That’s something we’ll talk to those younger guys about. You are in charge out there. They’re going to be looking to you for help, so you have to be a great leader.”
Two positional battles that begin in earnest are at tight end and running back, both of which are searching for a solid No. 3.
Behind Richard Rodgers and Andrew Quarless, tight end Justin Perillo may have the early edge on Mitchell Henry, Kennard Backman and Harold Spears based on his full year in the offensive system, but all four of the younger tight ends have had their strong moments in camp.
“We need to see how well they transfer practice and meeting time into game-time production and execution of fundamentals, and making split-second decisions on the field in game-time mode,” TE coach Jerry Fontenot said.
“Whenever the bright lights are on, we’re trying to see who’s not going to let the game get too big for them. I think they all handled being under the Family Night lights pretty well. We didn’t have any major blow-ups then.”
At running back behind Eddie Lacy and James Starks, the initial evaluation of Rajion Neal, Alonzo Harris and John Crockett is a simple one.
“Productivity. That’s how runners are judged,” RB coach Sam Gash said. “Productivity, the ability to pick up the pass (protection) and not drop the ball. We’ll see. They’re all working hard but haven’t done anything yet.”
Like Perillo, Neal is the one with experience in Green Bay’s system from last year. At this stage, coaches like to see players rise up and seize an available No. 3 spot.
“I would hope, but that’s more a question for Coach Zook,” Gash said. “(Special teams is) going to play a very important factor in what those guys do. They should know that.”