GREEN BAY – The Packers’ backfield appeared to be in an extreme state of flux leading up to last Thursday’s game against the Chicago Bears.
Eddie Lacy had been placed on injured reserve and James Starks was ruled out. With Knile Davis only two days into the playbook, Don Jackson was named the starting running back only hours after being promoted from the practice squad.
The wild card was converted receiver Ty Montgomery, who had been dabbling with handoffs in previous weeks.
As much turmoil as there seemed to be on the outside, the Packers had confidence about how things would play out on the field based on how all three attacked their preparation.
Davis, who was acquired from Kansas City last Tuesday, spent the entire week working with running backs coach Ben Sirmans to catch up on the offense.
Meanwhile, Jackson and Montgomery spent more than an hour studying with quarterback Aaron Rodgers at the team hotel the night before the game.
Both players had a firm grasp of the playbook, but Rodgers wanted them to know what to expect lining up in the backfield next to the two-time MVP quarterback.
School officially was in session.
“Just the details – his verbal cues, his body language, the way he operates the offense,” Jackson said. “It’s different for every quarterback. The way he manages the game, he was trying to fill me in on everything. He gave me good advice – feel like you belong.”
Jackson was more than ready for his NFL debut, but he played only six offensive snaps before injuring his hand in the second quarter and sitting out the remainder of the contest.
The good news for the undrafted rookie out of Nevada is tests showed no significant damage and he was allowed to practice on Wednesday with extra padding on his hand.
As Head Coach Mike McCarthy pointed out, Jackson’s biggest test likely will come in the team periods and half-line drills during Thursday’s padded practice.
His absence put the weight of the backfield on Montgomery’s shoulders and his 19 touches for 126 total yards played heavily into the Packers’ 26-10 win over the Bears.
In notching 10 catches for the second consecutive week, Montgomery became the first Packers’ receiver to have double-digit catches in back-to-back games since Sterling Sharpe did it during the 1993 season.
“I can tell you this, just meeting with Don and Ty last week, those guys care about it a lot and they really want to do well out there from a preparation standpoint,” Rodgers said.
“That’s where it starts. For me, I’ve talked about being able to trust a guy is directly tied to preparation. I’m proud of the way those guys approach their job. Knile’s no different. He has my number and anytime he wants to get ahold of me I said he can outside of the facility. When we’re here, we’re working together, talking about things.”
Along with spending extra time with Sirmans, Davis also has been working with backup quarterback Brett Hundley on picking up all the subtleties of the offense over the past week.
A former third-round pick, Davis handled kickoff duties and played three offensive snaps in the second half against Chicago.
His previous experience in a West Coast system has helped the transition, but picking up all the communication and understanding the running back’s role in the passing game is paramount.
“We did some cramming,” said Davis with a smile. “I feel more comfortable with it. It’s not like it was last week.
“With Aaron, he pretty much knows the whole offense. So when I went in the game this last week, he helped me out.”
Jackson credits Rodgers for how he’s handled the running backs in the wake of the injuries to Lacy and Starks. While only a rookie, Jackson hasn’t been shy about asking his quarterback questions.
The Packers will be without Lacy for at least the next seven games after he was placed on injured reserve. Starks didn’t practice again Wednesday after undergoing surgery on his knee a little more than a week ago.
The fluidity of the backfield has underscored the offense’s plight this season with tight end Jared Cook still out after injuring his ankle last month against Detroit. Receiver Jared Abbrederis also was placed on injured reserve Tuesday with a quad injury.
“Julius (Peppers) last week talked about the team not making any excuses. I think that’s something that rings true,” Rodgers said. “It’s a next-man-up league and we have to go with the guys we got and make no excuses.
“We don’t expect a drop-off from those guys even if on paper they’re not rated as high as the guy they’re taking the spot of. We need those guys to contribute and we all have to play to the best of our abilities and there are expectations on all of us to play well whether you’ve been here a week or you’ve been here a long time.”
The Packers saw what Montgomery could do Thursday against the Bears but remain excited about what Jackson and Davis could potentially add to the offense at some point.
For now, the two traditional running backs are spending a lot of time together to get ready for whenever their number is called.
“We have to fill the void,” Jackson said. “So we’re trying to make sure we’re as prepared as possible whether it’s here, my house, his house.
“That’s what we’ve been doing trying to make sure we keep it going all week because once we get enough repetition at it on paper, then walk through it, go through it at practice and we’ll be fine.”