GREEN BAY – Rookie Ty Montgomery and an offseason emphasis on special teams provided an instant upgrade on kickoff return for the Packers.
So much so the unit might be on the verge of breaking one.
Twice in Chicago in the opener and then again last Monday against Kansas City, Montgomery had a sizable running lane on a kickoff return thanks to some effective blocking.
He hasn’t yet “come out the back end,” as coaches like to say, but he could be close.
“I always feel like we’re close,” Montgomery said. “Yeah, hopefully we’ll get one soon. We’ll see.”
In three games, Montgomery has already posted three returns longer than 35 yards. His average of 31.5 on six returns blows away the Packers’ mark of 19.1 last year, which ranked at the bottom of the league.
Perhaps, most important, the five times Montgomery has brought a kickoff out of the end zone, he has gotten past the 20-yard line four times, and beyond the 30 three times. He has made the risk worth it, which wasn’t the case last year.
“The return game has been good,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. “I think our blocking has been excellent. The guys have really done a good job with the technique and the fundamentals of it. We’ll continue to get better at the drop angles. That’s something you always have to work on.”
Montgomery admitted he has no reference point as far as how much the unit has improved, because he wasn’t here last year, but he readily acknowledges it’s not all him.
“The guys up front are doing their jobs very well, and it’s making my job a lot easier,” he said.
Another rookie who could be called upon to make an impact soon is tight end Kennard Backman, currently the only other tight end available aside from starter Richard Rodgers.
The sixth-round pick from Alabama-Birmingham has been a gameday inactive the first three weeks, but with veteran tight end Andrew Quarless going on temporary injured reserve this week, it’s highly likely Backman will be putting on his uniform Sunday in San Francisco.
Backman started to settle in on offense late in the preseason, catching a TD pass in the third game and making a difficult 20-yard grab in traffic in the finale. He finished the preseason with seven receptions for 64 yards.
“I think toward the end of training camp, I hit my better stride, and I’m continuing to do the same thing now,” he said.
There’s a chance the Packers also could sign Justin Perillo from the practice squad to get a third tight end on the 53-man roster, but they’ve had only two tight ends active on gameday thus far, so they could stick with just Rodgers and Backman.
As for how to get involved in the offense and get quarterback Aaron Rodgers to trust him, Backman has a clear directive.
“Doing exactly what’s asked. Just being out there and being calm and making plays for him,” he said. “He’s definitely going to put you in position, and after that, it’s all on you. Knowing what to do, that’s probably most of the issue right there.”
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