About RJC Sports

Sports journalist. Current freelancer for Perform Group, data analyst for RunningBall. Former journalist at Huddersfield Giants and Shaw Cross Sharks Find me on Twitter: @rjconway92

Who will emerge as Green Bay’s lead back?

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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?

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Aaron Jones:

 

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.

 

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Jamaal Williams:

 

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.

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Ty Montgomery:

 

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.

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VAR is still causing controversy, but it is time we get on board

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during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group B match between Iran and Spain at Kazan Arena on June 20, 2018 in Kazan, Russia.

Saeid Ezatolahi wheeled away in delight. He would soon be joined by his teammates on the pitch and those still wearing bibs who’d occupied the dugout. The Rostov midfielder thought he had just dragged Iran level against Spain, taking them one step closer to the last-16, in their Group B clash.

 

Ezatolahi offered a prayer and kissed the turf. But his moment was to turn sour. Referee Andres Cunha placed his hand in the air, then his finger to his ear, listening intently. Spanish players surrounded the Uruguayan official claiming for a handball – claiming for anything to spare their blushes.

 

Two minutes passed, which must have felt like an age to those in white, eventually the ref waved the goal off as Ezatolahi had drifted half a yard offside after the ball had taken a flick off an Iranian head before he met it to beat David De Gea.

 

Spain retained their slender advantage and the landscape of the group was changed in the 2010 World Champion’s favour, whereas moments earlier it had shifted to one were Fernando Hierro’s side would have needed to get something from Morocco in their last group game – no gimme after their valiant showing against Portugal earlier in the day.

 

The Video Assistant Referee is yet to appease many watching the World Cup, but there is evidence that the highly controversial technology is working. Antoine Griezmann created a small part of history against Australia when he scored the first goal after a VAR decision. The Atletico forward was challenged by Josh Risdon. Fittingly, it was Cunha who also officiated that match. He allowed play to go on for a short while before receiving word that the challenge of the long time Barcelona target needed to be reviewed. A penalty was given. Girezmann dispatched it comfortably.

 

Of course, VAR is still open to ones interpretation of “clear and obvious”, Phil Neville and Jermaine Jenas railed against the technology on the BBC after the Group C clash – insisting the officials had still come to the wrong conclusion.

 

“I Don’t like VAR, I haven’t don’t from day one.” Said England Women manager Neville. “It has to be clear and obvious. We have three different opinions in the studio so it’s not clear.”

 

Former England international Jenas added: “That is one that shouldn’t even be sent for review. The referee made his decision by not giving the penalty. It was not a clear and obvious mistake. That’s where VAR can come off on the wrong side of things.”

 

Indeed, Jenas and Neville are correct, the judgement is still made by humans – prone to error even after looking at an incident more than once and at several angles. The system is not definitive like goal-line technology. It’s still subjective, still leaving the door ajar for people to interpret it however they like.

 

But it has received praise from a manager at the tournament, a manger whose side were on the wrong end of a VAR decision. South Korea played Sweden in their opening Group F contest.

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Viktor Claesson went down under a challenge from Kim Min-woo. Referee Joel Aguilar initially allowed play to run, with South Korea on a promising counter attack, after being consulted by those in the VAR booth the Salvadoran official pointed to the spot and Andreas Granqvist converted the penalty.

 

Afterwards, South Korea coach Shin Tae-yong said: “We could say it was regrettable, but he was tackled between his legs. We do agree that it was a good call.” Tae-yong’s dignified response should be appreciated when it would have been easier to jump on the bandwagon and insist that VAR has no place in football.

 

The resistance VAR has been met with is of no surprise. Football was equally as reticent to fully embrace goal-line technology when the original ideas were pitched: would it slow the game down? Would it take away from that moment of spontaneity from the goal scoring team? Regardless of the questions, one overarching question remained: Do we want the decision to be correct? Ultimately, the answer is “yes”.

 

Is VAR perfect? Absolutely not. But is it improving and will it improve in the future? Undoubtedly. Marcus Rashford said as much after England’s 2-1 triumph over Tunisia in which Harry Kane was subject to some rough treatment in the penalty area. The Tottenham striker received little sympathy from the officials and no action was taken against the Tunisians grappling with the England captain.

 

“There are certainly some decisions where they have to at least check to see if it is a penalty or not.” Said the Manchester United forward,

 

“It does need improving and I think it will improve over time. The idea of bringing VAR into the game is spot on but there is something to improve on.”

 

Rashford remains openminded about the system, as should we all. Football detests patience with a passion, in a microwave existence football has forgotten the delights of slow cooking their innovations.

 

Like managers, players and executives, the VAR system needs time to succeed.

 

Morocco vs Portugal match report

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Cristiano Ronaldo added yet another record to his ever-growing collection and Morocco became the first team officially eliminated from the 2018 World Cup as they lost 1-0 to Portugal in Moscow.

Ronaldo scored the only goal of the game with a clinical diving header with just four minutes on the clock. The Real Madrid forward scored his 85th international goal, making him Europe’s all-time top international goal scorer overtaking another Madrid great, Ferenc Puskas, who scored 84 goals in 85 games for Hungary in the 1940’s and 1950’s.

Puskas’ record had stood for 62 years before the 33-year-old took his goal tally for the tournament to four as the former Manchester United winger looks to add the World Cup, as well as the competition’s Golden Boot, to his extensive trophy cabinet.

Outside of the goal the current European Champions offered very little in attacking endeavour, that was left to their African opposition. After being spellbinding in the 3-3 draw against Spain in their group opener, they were much more lethargic against a feisty side. Hakim Ziyech and Nordin Amrabat were at the heart of the Moroccan’s creativity.

The latter will be haunting Raphael Guerreiro’s dreams for days to come after the Portugal left-back was turned inside out on his flank by the Watford winger. Morocco played with intent, unfazed by the European Champions.

The African outfit were much the better team in the first half and have every right to feel aggrieved that their final group match will be contested with little more than pride on the line.

Newly signed Wolves goalkeeper Rui Patricio was forced into action several times, including a contender for save of the tournament when he clawed away a Younes Belhanda header in the second half.

Ronaldo cut an isolated figure up front. The five-time Ballon d’Or winner was starved of service, waving his arms in frustration at the lack of creativity behind him. It needn’t matter in the end as Morocco spurned the chances they created, captain Mehdi Benatia wasted two, identical, glorious chances when a loose ball fell to him eight yards out, but he could only trash the efforts high over Patricio’s crossbar.

The Atlas Lions never ran out of hope or effort but eventually ran out of ideas. Their players dejected on the Luzhniki Stadium turf. The absence of a true centre forward ultimately costing them. Perhaps they are the most unfortunate team in Russia after losing in heartbreaking fashion to Iran, Aziz Bouhaddouz putting through his own net in the fifth minute of injury time.

Portugal all but confirmed their place in the round of 16, but the Jekyll and Hyde nature of it will be a cause of concern for Fernando Santos. No matter the nature of the performance the Team of the Five will not care if they are a team of one and Cristiano Ronaldo has to drag them to add the World Cup to their European Championship triumph.

Spain vs Portugal match report

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Group stage clashes between two powerhouse teams expected to go far can often lead to dull affairs. Both sides content to play out a cagey encounter as they feel their way into the tournament and perhaps meet each other further down the road.

On this night however, it was left to Spain and Portugal to play out a six-goal thriller in Sochi.

You could be forgiven if you forgot that there was still a game of football to be played with all the hoopla surrounding 2010 World Cup winners was about their decision to sack Julen Lopetegui and replace him with Fernando Hierro on the eve of the tournament.

Regardless of who’s side you are on in the fight between club and country, the Spanish Football Federation made their stance clear; that they would be bullied by Spain’s two biggest clubs no longer.

On the field, Portugal rescued a deserved draw and helped bring the World Cup to life in a pulsating 3-3 stalemate inside the Fisht Olympic Stadium.

Cristiano Ronaldo, always one to leave his mark on any football match, was at his ruthless best, scoring a hattrick. Meanwhile, for Spain, Diego Costa was also at his optimum, bagging a brace, and Nacho added a thunderous third while Isco sprinkled the occasion with stardust.

Ronaldo began proceedings with a third minute penalty after he took a tumble following a Nacho challenge.

Diego Costa equalised with a remarkable show of strength and determination. Sergio Busquets sent a long ball into his path, Costa won an aerial battle with Pepe before bearing down on goal and shimmying past Jose Fonte and Raphael Guerreiro. He then let loose with a low drive into the bottom corner, beating Rui Patricio.

Isco was a wristband buzz away from giving his country the lead after sending a crashing drive off the crossbar and bouncing on the line. The Real Madrid midfielder protested only to be told by referee Gianluca Rocchi the ball did not cross the line, gesturing to his watch.

Spain’s playmaker was menacing in the first half effortlessly drifting between Portugal’s midfield and defence and playing smart passes to open opportunities for himself and his teammates.

On stroke of half time the Real Madrid forward nudged the European Champions ahead once more when his rather tame shot squirmed past David De Gea in the Spanish goal. For a goalkeeper in the conversation as being the best in the world the moment was one more befitting of his first season with Manchester United than the unstoppable force he has since become.

Shortly after half time the game jolted back into life and Costa brought Spain level once more. A goal that is not usually in the playbook of La Roja, David Silva and Isco wonderfully executed a free-kick and clipped a smart ball to the back post. Serigo Busquets headed the ball back across goal for the former Chelsea striker to bundle into the back of the net and even the game at two apiece.

Just before the hour Nacho made amends for his error which gave Portugal the penalty. Once more it was the intricate play of Isco and David Silva. The cross came to nothing and a seemingly innocuous clearance came bouncing towards the Real Madrid defender who send a right-footed rocket from 22 yards crashing into the post before nestling into the bottom corner.

In a clash featuring some of the best strikers of a ball in the world it was a hit that any of those would have been proud of.

While chances have been at a premium in the early games of the World Cup there were no such problems in this contest. Andreas Iniesta flashed an effort agonisingly wide, which was not befitting of the majestic build up play which led to the chance.

Costa could have had his hattrick with 20 minutes left but scuffed his shot wide of the target.

The night was drawing to an exhausting close but there was still time for Ronaldo to have the final say on the game, like he has done with so many before. Brought down 25 yards away from the goal the five-time Ballon d’Or winner pulled his shorts up to reveal the powerful legs tasked with the responsibility of earning a well-deserved point.

A vintage run up followed before he delicately curled the ball into De Gea’s net. The Spanish shot stopper did not even attempt to save the effort and the Portugal captain wheeled away knowing he had the final word yet again.

Uruguay vs Egypt match report

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‘Slow burner’ would be the diplomatic way to describe the ninety minutes of arduous work, huffing and puffing before Uruguay’s quality eventually showed in the closing moments as they beat Egypt 1-0 in Group A of the 2018 World Cup.

Truth be told, the South Americans never found their rhythm, leaving it to Jose Maria Gimenez to save their blushes. He rose high to meet a Carlos Sanchez free-kick in the 89th minute, kickstarting their campaign.

The moments of quality where fleeting, the best coming in the dying embers of the game when Edinson Cavani twice threatened the break the Egyptian hearts – first with a wicked volley from the edge of penalty area which required a marvellous save from Mohamed El-Shenawy, and shortly after with a powerful free-kick from similar range which rattled the post.

Moments after it would be heartbreak for the North African outfit when Gimenez finally broke down their resistance.

Mohamed Salah was deemed fit, but only fit enough for the bench – that did not stop the Egyptian supporters going wild whenever his face adorned the big screen.

While the current Liverpool goal machine sat on the bench, the former one toiled on the pitch. Luis Suarez looked out of sorts in, missing a golden opportunity from two yards out, his first touch eluding him, and his often-relentless energy found wanting.

La Celeste were slow and predictable for most of the first half, if they are to live up to the tag of ‘dark horses’ for the tournament they will have to elevate their performance for when they take on Saudi Arabia in Rostov next Wednesday, that should not be difficult given the Saudi’s performance against the host nation on Thursday.

Captain Diego Godin represented the 14th ranked nation’s best attacking threat for much of the game with his lung-bursting runs from defence into midfield. Frustration etched on his face as his country laboured.

Suarez’s day went from bad to worse, he spurned multiple chances and even engaged in his trademark playacting in the final seconds. El-Shenawy twice denied the Barcelona forward, first with a smart save immediately after half-time, and later when the Al Ahly goalkeeper smothered a fifty-fifty ball when the Uruguay all-time top goal scorer had taken one touch too many.

The Central Stadium was far from its maximum capacity with large sections of the venue sporting nothing but empty orange seats. However with the average price of the a ticket being 24,966 Russian Rubles (£300), over half of the average Russian monthly salary, you could hardly blame any locals for failing to turn out en masse. Still, the core of Egypt fans which had turned out created a hostile atmosphere, the chants turned to uncontrollable screeches whenever their hero, Salah, was on screen.

The African side had their moments, too, moments that made one wonder if the outcome would have been different if the Premier League golden boot winner was on the field. Mohamed Elneny shot over while Trezeguet was a constant thorn in the Uruguayan side but could not produce the final ball to genuine bother.

For now, only the win matters. But Oscar Tabarez will want to address the sluggish 80 minutes and get his side coming out of the gate quicker if they are to progress deep into the tournament.

Russia vs Saudi Arabia match report

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Robbie Williams sang the classic ‘Let Me Entertain You’. Perhaps for neutrals they feared this may be the only entertainment they got as the two lowest ranked sides in the tournament went head-to-head in the opening game.

Russia will have left their fans happy if not entertained as they soundly beat Saudi Arabia 5-0 in Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium. With the victory the host nation ensured that they would not be the first hosts to be beaten in their opening game of a World Cup.

For as solid as Stanislav Cherchesov’s side was, the Saudis were equally as poor – even Russian President Vladimir Putin looked almost apologetic as he joked with the Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, and FIFA president, Gianni Infantino.

Russia played some eye-catching football throughout the match, but their opening goal came through the way of a simple cross and simple header. Yuri Gazinsky rose highest to meet an inswinging Aleksandr Golovin cross and power Sbornaya in front and score his first international goal.

The World Cup is the largest shop window in football and Golovin will have thrust himself right into the spotlight with two assists and a curling free kick to round off proceedings with the last kick of the game.

The 22-year-old’s second assists was for Villarreal forward Denis Cheryshev, who had replaced Alan Dzagoev after the Euro 2010 joint top scorer collapsed in a heap holding his hamstring.

The former Real Madrid forward produced a magnificent piece of skill, clipping the ball over two oncoming sliding Saudi defenders before rifling the ball into the roof of the net and register his first goal for his country.

Artyom Dzyuba sealed the game for the 2018 World Cup hosts with a clever header on the 70-minute mark before Cheresyv struck again with a brilliant goal. He ran on to a Roman Zobnin knock down and advanced into the penalty area before unleashing a brilliant shot with the outside of his left boot. An early contender for Goal of the Tournament – even if the tournament is still only one game old.

Golovin completed his Man of the Match performance in the third minute of added time when he left Saudi goalkeeper Abdullah Al-Maiouf floundering trying to reach his bending free kick from 22-yards out.

Juan Antonio Pizzi, who oversaw Chile’s failed World Cup qualifying campaign, could only watch on in frustration, flicking back his long mane of hair in anguish. He must now hope his lowly side rebound in Rostov next Wednesday when they face Uruguay.

Earl Thomas to miss Seattle mini camp

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Seattle Seahawks free safety Earl Thomas has announced he will not be at the team’s mini camp, which gets underway on June 12, over disputes regarding his contract.

Thomas is seeking an extension to his deal and presumably would become the top paid free safety in the National Football League.

The star ball-hawk is in the last year of his current deal and is set to become an unrestricted free agent in 2019.

Thomas released a statement on Twitter expressing his desire to remain in Seattle for the rest of his career but would like to see his production reflected in his pay.

“I will not be attending the upcoming mini camp or any team activities until my contract situation is resolved,” said the defensive back.

“I want everyone especially the 12s to know that I want to remain a Seahawk for the rest of my career, but I also believe that based on my production over the last 8 years that I’ve earned the right to have this taken care of as soon as possible,

“I want to have certainty in regards to the upcoming years of my career. I’m going to continue to work my craft and put in work so that I can add to the team and give us the best chance to win,” he continued.

“I hope my teammates understand where I’m coming from and believe this is the right thing to do. E.T.”

At 29, the ninth-year veteran is arguably looking for the last major contract of his career which would then carry him through until his early 30’s and probably see him through to the end of the prime.

The 2010 first round pick is set to earn $10 million this season, putting him as the fourth highest earner at his position behind Harrison Smith, who signed a five-year $51.25 million extension in 2016, LaMarcus Joyner, who is currently playing under the franchise tag for the Los Angeles Rams and Kansas City Chiefs safety Eric Berry.

Thomas has 25 interceptions through eight years in Seattle and has scored three defensive touchdowns.