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PACKERS BY POSITION: RUNNING BACKS

Green Bay — In the Super Bowl era alone, players such as Charley Taylor, Bobby Mitchell and Dante Hall have moved from running back to wide receiver and found great success.

Todd Christensen switched from fullback to tight end and became a perennial Pro Bowler.

And one-time quarterbacks Antwaan Randle El, Matt Jones and Julian Edelman moved to wideout and became standouts.

It’s hard to find a success story where a wide receiver switched to running back and hit it big. But Ty Montgomery and the Green Bay Packers will try becoming trendsetters this season.

“It looks like they’re all in on this thing with Montgomery,” one NFC executive said Monday. “Hey, good luck to ‘em.”

At this time a year ago, Green Bay’s running back depth chart consisted of Eddie Lacy, James Starks, John Crockett, Brandon Burks and Don Jackson. Today, none of those five backs are on the roster.

Instead, the third-year Montgomery who has 80 career carries, sits atop the depth chart. Behind Montgomery are five rookies, including three that came via the 2017 draft.

“It was weird at first,” Montgomery said of being the veteran in the running back room. “I’m not even coming off a full season, but I do have some experience. I’ve been blessed to have good coaches and good teachers that they provide me with knowledge and stuff that I’ve been able to carry with me, add to my experience, the little bit of experience that I have. So it’s been good. I mean, questions come my way, and I’m able to answer them. So I’m excited for what’s to come.”

So are the Packers.

Just minutes after the 2017 draft ended, Green Bay had added Jamaal Williams in the fourth round, Aaron Jones in the fifth and Devante Mays in the seventh, Packers coach Mike McCarthy made no bones about the pecking order of his running backs.

“He's our starting running back,” McCarthy said of Montgomery.

But can Montgomery also be a finisher, as well as a bellcow throughout the game? Or will he best be used in tandem with a rookie such as Williams who might be better suited to carry a heavier load?

Green Bay ran the ball 41.5% of the time during McCarthy’s first 10 seasons. Last year, the Packers ran it just 35.3% — the lowest percentage of the McCarthy era — and ranked 20th in rushing yards per game (106.3).

Montgomery made the switch to running back when an ankle injury ended Lacy’s season after Week 5. And Montgomery showed enough promise to make the Packers believe he could excel at a position he hasn’t played since the eighth grade.

Montgomery averaged a whopping 5.7 yards per carry last season, but ran the ball just 77 times. Montgomery has a nifty combination of power and speed — traits that were evident during his 16-carry, 162-yard two touchdown performance against Chicago in Week 15.

“When you turn his tape on, you saw him breaking a lot of tackles,” Packers offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett said. “You saw the versatility that he brings to the table as a receiver out of the backfield, so he can do a number of different things, but we just want to be, continue to be consistent in everything we do.”

What Montgomery hasn’t proven is the ability to handle a heavy workload.

Montgomery had double digit carries in just three of the 16 games in which he received at least one carry. And Montgomery’s 16 carries against Chicago were a season-high.

Montgomery (6-0, 216) certainly has the necessary bulk to handle a far greater workload. But considering Montgomery has never handled a heavy volume of carries, it remains to be seen if he’s up to the task.

Either way, Montgomery should be a matchup nightmare out of the backfield. Montgomery caught 54 passes last year (including the postseason) and should be a headache for linebackers or safeties asked to pick him up.

“I was running on a lot of instincts (in 2016) when I ran the football,” Montgomery said. “I knew where I was supposed to be going, but it was instincts. 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 that I get out there, I know my reads and my aiming points. I can just add that to my instinct, and I’m excited to do that.”

The Packers are also excited to see what their rookies can bring to the party.

Williams is a between-the-tackles runner with plenty of power to handle early down responsibilities. The knocks on Williams have been speed (4.59) and an inability to create for himself.

Jones ranked fourth in the FBS with 1,773 rushing yards last year, and had a 40-yard run, or more, in eight different games. But Jones is smaller (5-9, 208) and must prove he can take the pounding he’s sure to endure.

Mays (5-11, 230) was headed for a huge 2016 season at Utah State before an ankle injury wrecked his season. Mays jumped back on the radar of NFL scouts when he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.44 and 4.51 seconds and posted a vertical leap of 40.5 inches.

Which of the rookies emerges will be one of the more fascinating story lines in training camp.

“The running backs’ responsibility, the priority is to be able to stay on the field for all three downs,” McCarthy said. “All three of those young men have shown they can do that at a certain level. We’ll acclimate them, teach them our system. Ty Montgomery can do that, so he will be our starter, but it’s a competitive room.”

And remarkably inexperienced.

For now, though, the Packers are pushing their chips to the middle with Montgomery. And he’s excited to show it’s a gamble worth taking.

“I know I’ve still got to come out here and work every single day,” Montgomery said. “You never know what’s going to happen. I mean, these, it’s weird, I almost want to say young guys, but that’s what it feels like in the room. These young guys are good football players. They’re really good running backs. They’ve got more experience at the running back position than I do.

“If I don’t have my stuff together every single day, one of these dudes will take my job. We all come in, in that same position of trying to find a job, trying to keep a job, and if I don’t, that’s going to happen. But it was nice to hear that they do have confidence in me.

“I know there was a whole lot of talk or whatever after drafting three running backs on what that means, and nobody really knows what that means until we come out here and prove it.”

MEN IN THE MIX

RUNNING BACKS

Name Ht. Wt. Age Exp. College

Ty Montgomery 6-0 216 24 3 Stanford

Jamaal Williams 6-0 213 22 R BYU

Aaron Jones 5-10 208 22 R UTEP

Devante Mays 5-10 230 23 R Utah State

Kalif Phillips 5-9 218 23 R Charlotte

William Stanback 6-0 231 22 R Virginia Union

FULLBACKS

Aaron Ripkowski 6-1 246 24 3 Oklahoma

Joe Kerridge 6-0 245 24 2 Michigan

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