GREEN BAY – The hardest thing to drop was the gummy bears, but sacrifices needed to be made.
Aaron Jones has big goals for 2019 and a two-part plan to help achieve them. The first half was done in the weight room, with the Packers’ third-year running back splitting his training between EXOs Performance in Phoenix and his hometown of El Paso, Texas.
The second part of the deal? Well, that was a bit more tedious.
“It’s hard. I was big into candy,” smiled Jones after practice Wednesday. “I’ll turn and see candy and I’m, ‘Man I want that.’ But I know how I feel in my body, so that’s a big thing.”
Jones retooled his diet this winter, filling his dinner plates with chicken, rice, steak and quinoa. During snack time, he traded in chips, cookies, gummy bears, Twizzlers and Skittles for apple slices with almond butter, rice cakes and nuts.
The 5-foot-9 running back still reported back at around 204 pounds, but halved his body fat from 11 percent at the end of the last season to 5.3 during his most recent test.
The results have been noticeable, especially in Jones’ abdomen. Addressing the media at the start of the Packers’ offseason program last month, quarterback Aaron Rodgers went out of his way to praise Jones for reporting back in such good shape.
“I like to tease Aaron Jones from time to time – he’s the most athletic, fast guy with a little bit of a belly,” Rodgers said. “He’s pretty lean this year.”
Jones, a fifth-round pick out of UTEP in 2017, has been one of the NFL’s most efficient runners when healthy through his first two seasons, racking up 214 carries for 1,176 yards and 12 touchdowns. He led the league in 2018 when he averaged 5.5 yards per carry for the second straight year.
The only problem has been availability. Jones missed six games the past two years due to knee sprains, both of which occurred at Soldier Field. He’s worked to strengthen his lower body and hopes his dietary changes will also benefit him in the long run.
“Just stay working on your body,” Jones said of his focus. “Staying in the weight room as much as I can. Working on my lower body. PT. Stretching. All of that. Just so that you can last a physical, 16-game season.”
Jones wasn’t the only Packers running back who attacked the offseason with renewed focus. Jamaal Williams, a fourth-round pick from the same 2017 draft class, also looks leaner this spring.
Williams has yet to miss a game in his pro career, amassing 1,020 yards and seven touchdowns on 274 carries (3.7-yard average) through his first two seasons. This offseason, he concentrated on balancing power with agility. The regimen saw Williams return around 218 with hope of getting a bit larger.
“If I can, I’d like to get to 220,” Williams said. “I feel good where I’m at. I feel lighter. I’m trying to see my agile side. I can always run somebody over but I feel like as long as I can show this double-edge sword, I’ll be good.”
The two running backs have been the face of the Packers’ running game for the better part of two seasons, but there is a different feel to practices under new Head Coach Matt LaFleur.
While the Packers have utilized outside zone concepts in their rushing offense in the past, LaFleur has a reputation for his dedication to the ground game. He’s also regarded for how he marries the run and pass together from the backfield.
Jones feels both stronger and faster this spring, adding he believes he could run a faster 40 time now than he did at the NFL Scouting Combine two years ago.
Regardless, Jones thinks the new scheme will bring out the best in his abilities. If Jones can stay healthy for all 16 regular-season games, he believes this “definitely” could be his breakout year.
“I feel like that’s something that can help me last 16 games (based on) what you’re putting into your body,” Jones said. “I felt better running. I feel better being leaner. I feel a little bit faster and stronger in the weight room. I feel like that can only help me on the football field.”