GREEN BAY – The running back has been out of the bag since October. One of the Packers’ best kept secrets on offense is now on the radar of every NFL team.
A year ago at this time, Ty Montgomery wasn’t even running yet after undergoing ankle surgery. By training camp, he was a receiver just trying to earn his place on the roster.
It wasn’t until Week 7 his true purpose was revealed. With a rash of injuries at running back, the Packers’ coaching staff moved the budding playmaker to the backfield out of necessity and the shoe fit perfectly.
Montgomery averaged 5.9 yards per carry on 77 attempts on his way to leading the Packers in rushing with 457 yards and three touchdowns, including a dominant 16-carry, 162-yard performance against the Chicago Bears last December.
His breakthrough put the league on notice, and with that in mind, Montgomery and Packers running backs coach Ben Sirmans have been busy preparing for the running back’s second act this offseason.
“He understands what the challenges are this year,” Sirmans said. “Everybody knows who he is now. So now when they’re looking at us on film and preparing for us, they know who Ty Montgomery is. They know what he can do. Like I told him, the only thing we can do from this point on is keep enhancing the skill sets that he has.”
The Packers see big things in Montgomery’s future. After the draft, Head Coach Mike McCarthy proclaimed him the team’s starting running back, charged with leading a backfield with three rookie draft picks and nobody older than 24.
It’s still been an education for Montgomery. After relying on his talent and instincts to navigate 2016, he finally has the opportunity to learn the position at a more controlled pace.
Once the classroom portion of the offseason program started, Sirmans sat down with Montgomery to review each of his carries from last year and a pattern quickly emerged.
“You really don’t realize how many tackles he broke,” Sirmans said. “As a receiver, you would not imagine a guy being able to break that many arm tackles or getting hit and still running.”
Montgomery was running to just gain yards, though. Now, he understands the subtle differences in defensive fronts and has taken cues from Sirmans and fullback Aaron Ripkowski on how to improve his pass protection.
When the coaches turn on film, the game has slowed down for Montgomery. He can see blitzes developing before they happen, a critical part of being a three-down back capable of doing whatever is asked.
Only a month into the offseason program, Montgomery already is starting to feel a difference.
“I was running a lot on instincts. I knew where I was supposed to be going, but it was instinct,” Montgomery said. “Now, I know techniques. I know rotations and linebacker positions, and fronts and understanding gap rules and what the defense is supposed to be doing. Now when I get out there, I know my reads and my aiming points and I can just add that to my instincts. I’m excited to do that.”
Montgomery never envisioned being a starting running back in the NFL. Until last year, he hadn’t played the position full-time since grade school.
For that reason, Montgomery admits this feels a bit like he’s entering his second NFL season, not his third. Even his location in the locker room has shifted after moving down a few lockers to join his fellow running backs.
One thing that hasn’t changed is his number. Montgomery was allowed to keep his No. 88 because of an NFL rule that stipulates skill-position players are able to keep their number if they play a full season at their previous position.
After talking it over with his agent, Montgomery decided to stick with it. Don’t let the number fool you, though. He’s a running back in every sense of the word.
“That was extremely impressive learning on the fly like that,” center Corey Linsley said. “I’m excited to see what Ty can do this year with the whole offseason and whole year under his belt now as a running back.
“Now, he’s a real running back. He’s not a convert anymore. I know he’s been working his tail off. He hasn’t changed one bit with his work ethic just because he’s had a little success.”
The move to running back has been liberating for Montgomery on several fronts, but perhaps for no bigger reason than it’s allowed him to train at his more natural position.
Montgomery tends to hover around 220 pounds, but he used to feel pressure to be lighter to play receiver. That’s no longer an issue and it’s made a difference in his weight-training.
“Specifically, I didn’t try to keep my weight down,” said Montgomery when asked about the biggest difference in his training. “I always had to try to stay light. It took more effort to stay light than hover around 220 like I naturally do.
“My body naturally adapts really fast to things and responds really well. I lift like a running back now.”
The strides have shown in the classroom. Montgomery feels just as comfortable answering questions these days as he does asking them.
It’s different without Eddie Lacy and James Starks, but Montgomery enjoys working with Jamaal Williams, Aaron Jones and Devante Mays. As Montgomery looks to build off his successes last season, Sirmans believes that work ethic will pay dividends in training camp and beyond.
“He sees himself as a guy who wants to be an asset with anything he’s asked to do,” Sirmans said. “The way he’s built, the last thing he wants to do when he steps on the football field is be a liability whether it’s a receiver, runner or protecting the quarterback. His biggest strength is his competitiveness and it’s what’s helping him succeed with what he’s doing so far.”