GREEN BAY – There have been no announced plans to change Ty Montgomery’s jersey number, but to Head Coach Mike McCarthy, his current one no longer has significance.
Slowly but surely, Montgomery has developed the skills to do anything a running back needs to in the Packers’ offense, on all three downs. He can carry it on first down, catch a pass out of the backfield on second down, and pick up a blitz on third down, if necessary.
He’s not ditching the wide receiver skills that prompted the Packers to draft him in the third round out of Stanford last year in the first place, as he still considers himself a “hybrid” player.
But when he’s holding his ground as the last line of defense between a blitzing linebacker and quarterback Aaron Rodgers, he’s no longer just dabbling as a running back.
“I think you have to get past his number,” McCarthy said on Wednesday. “He’s not really number 88. He’s a 222-pound man. He’s physical, he’s strong. He’s worked real hard at the pass protection techniques.”
Montgomery had one apparent miscue against a pass rusher last week vs. the Colts, but Rodgers and the coaches trust him with the role. At least until James Starks is back to full speed – he was limited in practice again on Wednesday – Montgomery is by all appearances the team’s No. 1 back, and it may stay that way.
The Packers’ cautious approach with his health last week was the only reason he wasn’t featured more prominently. Coming off a missed game due to sickle-cell symptoms, Montgomery was on a snap count and had seven carries for 53 yards, along with three receptions for 38 more.
Getting more touches helps any offensive player get into a rhythm, but more important to Montgomery is playing instinctively when the ball is handed to him. He needs to know the playbook, but he also knows it’s his job to “make stuff happen as it happens.”
“I’m not thinking,” he said. “I know what I’m supposed to do, know where I’m supposed to go, and my instincts just take over with how to hit the hole.”
He feels the instinctive running grew from his work as a kickoff returner, both last year as a rookie and in college. It’s a combination of knowing where to “hit it” but also finding a hole when it doesn’t work the way it’s drawn up.
“I hope this doesn’t sound arrogant, but it really has always felt natural, just finding the vision and the way the defense is flowing,” he said.
“I feel very, very comfortable, but I don’t think my receiver skills have gone down the drain. I still feel very comfortable out there, too.”
Montgomery’s multi-faceted role has caught the attention of this week’s opponent, the Tennessee Titans. Their head coach, Mike Mularkey, told Green Bay media in a conference call that Montgomery has been highlighted in the game plan presentations this week, calling him “effective in many a way.”
Health-wise, Montgomery feels he can get back to the workload he shouldered before his illness, when he had 19 touches (nine carries, 60 yards; 10 receptions, 66 yards) against the Bears last month.
He knows it’s not his decision how many times he gets the ball, but it’s also not his concern. His 9.1 yards per touch in limited work last week are evidence he’s going to make the most of what he gets.
“It definitely helps to get more carries, but I feel very in tune with the offensive line, and I feel in tune with Aaron when I’m in there. I’m not really worried about that stuff,” he said. “I try to be a team guy. When my number’s not called, it’s not called. I’m rooting the guys on that’s in there.”
If a changed jersey number were to make his position switch official at some point in the future, he’d roll with that, too.
“I wouldn’t be upset by it, I wouldn’t be opposed to it,” he said. “I’m feeling really comfortable back there.”