INDIANAPOLIS — Mike McCarthy has seen first-hand what Eddie Lacy and Ty Montgomery, separately, can do in the backfield.
Now, the Packers head coach wouldn’t mind seeing them together – how Lacy’s power running style might blend with Montgomery’s quickness.
The 2016 season was a tale of two halves for the Packers’ backfield. Lacy was off to the best start of his four NFL seasons before an ankle injury landed him on injured reserve in October.
Montgomery, a third-round pick in 2015, started the year as a receiver before making a midseason shift to running back en route to leading the Packers in rushing yards.
Whether a Lacy-Montgomery pairing is possible will be determined in the weeks to come. Lacy, who is still rehabbing from in-season ankle surgery, is one of the Packers’ 11 unrestricted free agents scheduled to hit the market next week.
Still, McCarthy couldn’t help but ponder the potential of a one-two punch consisting of Lacy and Montgomery, quantifying his level of interest as “very high” when speaking with reporters at the NFL Scouting Combine Wednesday.
“I think it’s important to recognize you always want some diversity between the running styles of your running backs, and especially when they can both play all three downs,” McCarthy said. “That’s the most important component that I look for in running backs.
“They’re all different. It’s our job as coaches to take advantage of their skill set. But the fact that those guys can play all three downs and give you a different style runner is a huge benefit to our offense.”
McCarthy said he spoke with Lacy about a week ago. The former Pro Bowl running back has been rehabbing down at his alma mater, the University of Alabama, since the Packers’ season ended.
Lacy rebounded from a down 2015 campaign with 360 rushing yards on 71 carries (5.1 yards per carry) through the first five games of the season before landing on injured reserve.
He stayed in Green Bay after undergoing ankle surgery and was on-hand when the Packers played the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship Game in January.
“We’d like to get Eddie back. He’s our guy,” McCarthy said. “He’s one of our core players. All of these guys are in free agency right now … this is a business phase that we go through each and every year. I’m hopeful we can get them all back, but the reality of it doesn’t always work out that way.”
Injuries to both Lacy and veteran running back James Starks (knee) forced the Packers to shift gears to Montgomery, who moved into Ben Sirmans’ running backs room early in the season.
Montgomery picked things up quickly, producing 126 total yards in his first start at running back against Chicago in Week 6. Two months later, he registered his first 100-yard rushing performance in a 162-yard day against the Bears.
Montgomery started the last seven games (including playoffs) at running back, carrying the load after Starks sustained a concussion in an automobile accident in December.
The 6-foot, 216-pound running back finished the regular season as the Packers’ leading rusher with 77 carries for 457 yards (5.9 yards per carry) and three touchdowns, while adding 44 receptions for 348 yards.
General Manager Ted Thompson drafted Montgomery in the third round out of Stanford two years ago with an idea that he could potentially make an impact in the backfield like fellow receiver Randall Cobb.
“We knew that he had some pedigree as a running back,” said Thompson on Wednesday. “His body type is certainly something that would make you think about it. When coaches or personnel people are sitting around chewing the fat, we think about things like that, and he’s one of those people that certainly seems to have found a little niche.
“And he’s embraced it. That’s one thing that sometimes is overlooked. He took the bull by the horns and embraced it.”
Montgomery, who is expected to change his number from 88 this offseason, currently is the only running back the Packers have signed for 2017 following Starks’ release last month.
In addition to Lacy, the Packers have two other former undrafted rookies, Don Jackson and John Crockett, who are exclusive-rights free agents.
While Lacy’s situation remains up in the air, McCarthy is excited about Montgomery’s future. Starting in April, Montgomery will get a chance to pick up on the nuances of the running back position when Packers return for the offseason program.
“The fact Ty is going to have the opportunity to work on all the little things from Day 1, that always makes a difference in how guys grow from Year 2 to 3, or 1 to 2,” McCarthy said.
“Just the fact he can play there full-time and focus on the specifics of the position is obviously important and he’ll definitely benefit from it.”