Muddle backfields that are talked up as multiple-headed monsters often lead to ascending players being smothered and an offense that is disjointed.
For an example of this, look no further than the New Orleans Saints with and without Adrian Peterson as a prime example. His departure saw Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara take the National Football League by storm as one of the best running back tandems ever.
In Green Bay, there is a similar crowd in the backfield. Ty Montgomery, Aaron Jones, Jamaal Williams and even Devante Mays are all jostling for touches with Head Coach Mike McCarthy openly stated that all the backs will have a chance to tote the rock.
“The fact of the matter is we’re going to go running back by committee,” McCarthy told ESPN’s Rob Demovsky. “But if one of them would emerge as that full-time guy then you have to have the ability to adjust to that.”
McCarthy highlighted that he is pleased with his three primary ball carriers but admits that their lack of experience played into his decision to decide upon the committee approach.
“We feel like we’ve got three guys that have all done it, but they haven’t done it for a long period of time, so I think it’s just practical thinking from that position and realising that it’s a very demanding position.” He said in June.
With that being said, who does have the best chance of emerging from the packed backfield as the unparalleled starter?
Jones was having an encouraging year before niggling injuries and the emergence of Williams forced him into a smaller workload.
Jones came to prominence in the Packers’ dramatic win over the Cowboys in Dallas in which the second-year tailback had 19 rushes for 125 yards and a touchdown. The man out of Texas caught the eye with a handful of clutch plays including a fourth and one conversion to set up a score which would give Green Bay their first lead and a 15-yard gain as the Packers marched down the field to snatch the victory.
The sophomore runner has an explosive running style. Once on the edge, Jones can outrun oncoming linebackers, get to the second level and take on defensive backs.
Jones is a smaller back, standing just 5’9 and weighing 208 pounds. Although there could be a fear that any attempt to bulk up the former El Paso tailback could result in diminishing some of his breakaway speed.
Catching passes is also an area where Jones is comfortable, but there is certainly room for improvement. Admittedly, he did not have the volume of receptions as his two teammates. Jones caught just nine balls for 22 yards with McCarthy choosing to deploy either Montgomery or Williams in passing situations.
The lack of passes caught could be attributed to his pass blocking ability. Jones needs to improve on this aspect of the game if he is to become the every down back and is behind Montgomery and Williams in his protection development. Although, he is arguably Green Bay’s best big play threat from the running back position which could work in his favour when accumulating snaps.
Williams had to be patient to get his chance at showing what he can do. Once he got it, he made it almost impossible for McCarthy to keep him on the sideline. Since stepping in for the hurt Jones and Montgomery, Williams has had four games with 20 or more carries.
Williams does not possess the same breakaway speed as Jones but second year runner is a tough between the tackles grinder, fighting for extra yards and picking up the first down in short yardage situation.
In week 13 the Brigham Young man had his breakout performance against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Rushing for 113 yards and a touchdown while also setting up Jones’ 20-yard touchdown scamper in overtime to knock off the Bucs.
Montgomery is seen as the better pass catcher out of the trio but, perhaps surprisingly, Williams eclipses the Sanford man averaging 10.5 yards per reception compared to the former wide receiver’s 7.5 yards per grab.
Standing at six feet tall and weighing 213 pounds, the California native has a decent size to be an every down back. Not as big as true bell cow backs such as Todd Gurley or Ezekiel Elliott, Williams may have to hit the 220-pound range to help him withstand the brutal physicality which comes with running the football.
However, Williams may represent the most well-rounded runner in the backfield for Green Bay, if he carries over his late season form into training camp then he may be the clubhouse leader to receive the lion’s share of touches once the season begins.
Montgomery is the longest tenured running back on the Green Bay roster. Shifting to the position after a slew of injuries to the position in 2016, Montgomery has done an admirable job – to the point where his position change from wide out to running back has become full-time.
The fourth-year player is in his contract year, with two younger, and cheaper, prospects breathing down his neck for his job he will need to impress. Montgomery is in danger of being saddled with the ‘gadget player’ tag alongside Tavon Austin and Taylor Gabriel – making it difficult to negotiate a contract based on their team role.
In the early part of the season the former wide out found it difficult to run the ball. Through the first three games of the season Montgomery carried the ball 41 times for 124 yards. A meagre three yards per rush.
He then sustained a rib injury against Chicago and found it difficult to force his way back into the rotation following the emergence of the rookie duo.
Montgomery’s versatility will be an advantage for him, McCarthy and new Offensive Coordinator Joe Philbin can split him out wide and have confidence that he can run a good route and catch the ball when targeted.
Montgomery will not give his job up without a fight and for the second season in a row the former third round selection has entered mini camp with more muscle mass on his frame. Last offseason Montgomery reportedly bulked up to 220 pounds and while he told reporters he is still at that weight it looks like he has added more muscle mass.
Montgomery acknowledged his strengths as he spoke after the Packers’ offseason program: “Mismatches and big plays, that’s what I want to bring to this offense,” said the Green Bay back. “When I’m in the game, I want to affect the game. I want to affect the personnel that’s out there. I want to affect the defense.”
Overall there is a true three horse race heading into training camp for the starting running back spot. Every snap will mean something, and any niggling injury could be a major set back when it comes to pushing for touches come week one.
Green Bay’s backfield may be murky but there is still plenty of time for it to clear up.