GREEN BAY – Aaron Jones stopped for a moment following Wednesday’s practice and noticed the empty lockers now surrounding the Packers’ second-year running back.
As recently as three weeks ago, Jones had Darius Jackson on one side of him and Ty Montgomery on the other. After Jackson’s release last month and Montgomery’s trade to Baltimore Tuesday, however, Jones and Jamaal Williams suddenly were the only backs left on their side of the room.
“It's a little weird. It changes very fast,” Jones said. “It’s a little different. He and I (Jamaal) are the only ones on this row. … I'm so used to having somebody here with you. I turn to my left and my right and I'm like, ‘Man, I have nobody to talk to.’”
That technically changed Thursday with Tra Carson joining Jones and Williams on running-back row after a promotion from the practice squad, but the fact remains the pair of 2017 draft choices are now indisputably the face of the Packers’ ground game moving forward.
It’s a role Jones and Williams have been working towards since the Packers drafted them in back-to-back rounds last year, taking Williams in the fourth round (134th overall) and Jones in the fifth (No. 182).
Over the past 1½ years, Montgomery served as a big brother of sorts to the young backs. While his departure removes a versatile and experienced back from the room, Jones and Williams are prepared to be the offense’s one-two punch.
“We already know how this business is,” Williams said. “Now, it’s me and Aaron. We just have to step up a little more, learn the routes outside the backfield and try to take what Ty was doing a little bit more. And keep doing what we’ve been doing the whole time, just being us.”
Close friends who share the same agent, Jones and Williams have been each other's biggest supporters since they first arrived in Green Bay. With complementary skill sets, the two have combined for 1,893 total yards and 13 touchdowns in 40 NFL games.
As the third head of Green Bay’s backfield monster, Montgomery contributed 721 yards from scrimmage to that total over the past 1½ seasons. Often featured in the Packers’ two-minute offense, the fourth-year veteran had played 199 offensive snaps through the first seven games of this season.
Those key snaps now fall to Jones and Williams, and predictably, neither running back has a problem with that.
“I'm fine with touching the ball more,” said Jones, laughing. “It'd be funny to me if you showed me a guy who didn't want the ball more.”
Jones has been a revelation for the offense since returning from a two-game suspension to start the season, averaging at least 5.1 yards per carry in all five games in which he’s appeared.
Jones, who’s started the past two games, had his best showing of the season last Sunday in Los Angeles when he rushed for 86 yards on 12 carries against the Rams, a performance that included a 33-yard touchdown at the end of the third quarter.
Entering Sunday’s game in New England, the 5-foot-9, 208-pound running back leads the NFL with 6.23 yards per carry among qualifying rushers, just ahead of Cleveland’s Nick Chubb (6.12) and Detroit’s Kerryon Johnson (6.05).
“He’s been extremely productive in the role that he’s been in up to this point in time,” offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. “Obviously he’s not the biggest back in the National Football League, but he certainly has taken a few shots and gets right back up and gets back in the huddle and gets ready for more.”
Williams played in all 16 games as a rookie, leading the Packers’ backfield with 818 total yards and six touchdowns.
The 6-foot, 213-pound running back jumped to the top of the depth chart due in part to his proficiency in pass protection, showing the ability to quickly diagnose and stand up to blitzing linebackers in third-down passing situations.
Williams regularly platooned those duties with Montgomery, who often was featured in two-minute situations because of his background as a receiver. At the same time, Williams has been effective in that capacity, as well, with 33 catches for 319 yards and two touchdowns to this point in his career.
“I just pretty much try to be an all-around back as I’ve always tried to do,” Williams said. “Working on everything I can to make sure I have every aspect (down) of what the running backs need to do and make sure I do that at a successful rate.”
If you’re looking for backfield gridlock, you won’t find it in Green Bay. Jones and Williams have had a tight bond for the past two years, even hosting a youth camp together this past summer in Texas.
Twenty-one months into their young NFL careers, the two running backs feel ready to step into the driver’s seat.
“We're very comfortable,” Jones said. “We don't have a third (veteran) there, so it's just really us relying on each other now. It's just going to bring us closer.”