GREEN BAY – John Crockett realized a childhood dream last December when he was promoted to the Packers’ active roster.
In his first appearance against Detroit, the rookie running back helped spark the offense with five second-half carries for 22 yards in a game forever known for its Hail Mary finish.
As sweet as his first NFL sampling tasted, the former North Dakota State standout sleeps no easier this summer. Crockett knows the late-season promotion buys him nothing but a chance to repeat the process.
To stay, he must earn it. Again.
“The overall goal is to show that last year wasn’t a fluke – you can play in this league,” Crockett said. “You can show some spurts and ability, and come back more poised and a little bit more mature in your game.
“That’s what I’m truly focused on, just the same intricate things that you have to do to play with a guy like No. 12 (Aaron Rodgers) because he’s meticulous with his stuff.”
Crockett is used to playing the long game. While he finished second in Bison history in all-purpose yards (5,151), the 6-foot, 217-pound running back didn’t actually start until his senior year.
Once entrenched as the starter, Crockett set new single-season school records in all-purpose yards (2,419) and rushing yards (1,994) to put himself on the NFL’s radar.
Crockett was considered one of the gems of the Packers’ undrafted rookie class, but an ankle injury suffered during the last week of the offseason program landed him on the physically unable to perform list at the start of training camp.
He returned in time for the preseason opener in New England and amassed 169 total yards with two touchdowns in four exhibition games. Still, Crockett missed out on the third-string job and started the year on the practice squad.
That’s where he stayed until his promotion. The Lions game would mark his biggest contribution. He was a healthy scratch for four games and played sparingly in two others.
Crockett has talked with Head Coach Mike McCarthy about a path to a more defined role beginning on special teams.
“His redshirt year is over. He needs to make an impact,” McCarthy said. “He needs to show up on special teams.
“He’s done a lot of good things, but he’s going into his second training camp.”
Crockett said his goal is “to be a little bigger” this season. Working with the strength and conditioning staff, he used the offseason program to find a comfortable weight to perform at.
Special teams have been a bit more of a transition since Crockett rarely played there in college other than returning kickoffs. As a reserve NFL running back, however, it’s imperative you make your presence felt on coverage teams.
Crockett said he’s learned a lot from watching the Packers’ defensive backs, taking mental notes on how they cover opposing players. Now, he must translate it to his own game.
Eliminating mental errors is the starting point and critical to demonstrating progress to the coaching staff regardless of whether it comes on offense, defense or special teams.
“Making mistakes are over,” Crockett said. “At the end of the day, that’s what this game comes down to: making plays. Defensive plays, offensive plays, special teams plays, whatever it may be, that’s the goal.”
The battle for the No. 3 spot behind Eddie Lacy and James Starks should be fierce in camp with undrafted rookies Don Jackson and Brandon Burks joining the fray.
Jackson (5-10, 208) rushed for 1,029 yards during his senior year at Nevada, while Burks (5-9, 208) led Troy in rushing in each of the past three seasons.
McCarthy likes the competition that’s brewing at the position entering training camp. He expects all three to push each other for the job.
“(Crockett) needs to detail his work and take advantage of these opportunities because those two young guys behind him, I'm excited to see them run the ball when we get the pads on,” McCarthy said.
After making the quantum leap from the Football Championship Subdivision, Crockett began to notice things slowing down for him during his second offseason program.
He watched Lacy and Starks closely last season, gaining insight into the small details that can transform a 3-yard run into a big play. Slowly, he began to understand what aspects from his own skillset can be successful in the NFL.
Crockett aimed to absorb as much information as possible during last month’s minicamp, enjoying an extra serving of first-team reps with Starks and 14 other veterans excused.
These small opportunities matter. The margin for error is tight for undrafted players. If more reps are available in August, the 24-year-old running back knows he must capitalize.
The redshirt officially has been pulled. It’s now up to Crockett to show he can be trusted.
“You want to contribute when you were younger, but at the end of the day you want to be realistic,” Crockett said. “You understand that you’re not ready yet. But now, you’re a little bit smarter, you understand the scheme and now you can go out there and play freely.
“It is Year 2 and I do feel like I should be ready to help this team.”