GREEN BAY – If Aaron Jones didn’t know any better, the rookie running back would’ve guessed Ty Montgomery has lined up in the Packers’ backfield all along.
“If I came in and nobody would’ve told me he was a receiver before, I would have thought he was a running back the whole time,” said the fifth-round pick Monday. “He has the build, he’s smart, and he knows how to run the ball.”
The reality is a year ago at this time Montgomery was still on the Packers’ physically unable to perform list (PUP), recovering from ankle surgery. His days were spent with the receivers, taking notes on his primary position since high school.
It wasn’t until the start of the regular season Montgomery began transitioning to running back. Initially considered a change-of-pace developmental option, it took a little more than a month for his role to grow exponentially in the offense.
Montgomery became a serious matchup problem for defenses out of the backfield. As time passed, teams started paying more attention to him, deciding how to cover him when he’s in the box and when he motions out wide.
In the end, Montgomery wound up leading the Packers with 457 rushing yards. His 5.9 yards per carry was the highest among all NFL running backs with at least 75 attempts.
Even after the Packers drafted three running backs in May, Head Coach Mike McCarthy still anointed Montgomery as the starter in his first post-draft news conference.
Despite the high praise, Montgomery didn’t get complacent in his offseason workouts. If anything, it only motivated the third-year veteran to train harder and further develop his skills.
“I feel good. I feel solid, a little stronger,” Montgomery said. “I definitely keep my balance more. I think that's something that just comes from playing at the time that I did, at the end of the season, and then training this offseason.
“Now with the pads coming on, I was definitely excited. I'm just going to continue to get better, I know that for a fact.”
For the first time, Montgomery didn’t concentrate on his weight this offseason. In the past, he tried to stay around 215 pounds to avoid compromising his speed and quickness.
With his focus squarely on developing strength and agility, Montgomery allowed his body to hover closer to his more natural weight of 220, and the benefits of the approach could be seen during the first week of training camp.
The best part is Montgomery doesn’t feel like it zapped him of any explosiveness.
“I’m happy with where my body is,” Montgomery said. “This offseason I wasn’t training to keep my weight down to play the receiver position. I wasn’t thinking, ‘Oh, let me put on 10 more pounds’ or whatever the case was. I wasn’t thinking of putting on weight. I was just not keeping my weight down and just working hard.”
Montgomery didn’t get to this point alone. As has been the case in recent years, he once again trained with former Wisconsin running back and current Los Angeles Charger Melvin Gordon.
It was through his friendship with Gordon that Montgomery was introduced this offseason to seven-time Pro Bowler and former NFL MVP Adrian Peterson, who’s preparing for his 11th NFL season and first with the New Orleans Saints.
“It was a little enlightening,” Montgomery said. “I’ve never met him before, or gotten to see him train. His nickname is ‘All Day’ and I figured out there’s a reason he’s called ‘All Day.’ It was good. It pushed me. I was glad to be around guys who worked really hard.”
Montgomery understands he’s not a finished product. That’s why he made sure to bounce as many questions as possible off Gordon and Peterson on everything from the small details of the position to pass protection.
After putting in countless hours in the classroom and practice field this summer, Montgomery finally got a chance to put all his research to work once the Packers put the pads on for the first time Saturday.
While every day is a learning process, Montgomery has started to feel a difference. His teammates, both at receiver and running back, also can see his offseason work in action.
“He’s a guy who’s going to stay committed to it,” receiver Jordy Nelson said. “He’s going to fine-tune everything. He’s not going to settle for being a third-down back or second-down back. He wants to be out there every down, every play. As he continues to grow, that’s something he’s going to be able to do. What he did last year was unbelievable and to continue it is incredible.”
While considered the leader of the backfield, Montgomery knows he doesn’t have all the answers. He’s still only 24 with less than a year of competitive experience at the position.
He’s still peppering running backs coach Ben Sirmans with questions in meetings. Yet, he also enjoys answering as many as he can for Jones, Jamaal Williams, Devante Mays, and the rest of the Packers’ rookie running backs.
Montgomery sees those conversations as a two-way street. The more he’s asked about, the more it reinforces what he’s learned over the past year.
As the team presses forward in training camp, Montgomery is focused on proving he can be the reliable every-down back the Packers look to feature in this offense.
“I’m anxious and excited to see what God has in store for me. Whatever it is,” Montgomery said. “I have high expectations for myself, but hopefully I exceed those. I’m excited. This offseason being able to start the season at this position, I think is going to be helpful.”
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