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Focus shifts to backfield with training camp on the horizon

Packers are ready to turn up the reps for their running backs


GREEN BAY – The Packers had a plan for the offseason.

Working within the constraints of the collective bargaining agreement, Head Coach Mike McCarthy made an adjustment with how the Packers conducted their seven-week program.

Instead of trying to strike a balance between pass and run reps during unpadded practices as in previous years, the Packers skewed snaps more towards the passing game this spring to maximize their on-field offensive opportunities.

It not only gave Green Bay a chance to get more of its young receivers work with quarterback Aaron Rodgers, but it also afforded the secondary greater exposure after injuries forced several young cornerbacks into the lineup last season.

Now on the eve of training camp, the Packers are ready to turn their focus back to the backfield.

"The reality of the OTAs is you're limited in what you can do," said McCarthy on Wednesday. "I think the quality of work we had this year – focusing primarily on the passing game – was very good. … With that, we do have to shift gears and make sure we're giving the time (to the running backs), particularly in pads."

The Packers will put the pads on for the first time Saturday after conducting their first two unpadded practices, keeping in lockstep with CBA rules. Once those drills begin, Green Bay should soon get a better idea of what its trio of rookie draft picks – Jamaal Williams, Aaron Jones and Devante Mays – brings to the table.

Camp reps also should be valuable for starter Ty Montgomery, who concentrated solely on running back after making an in-season conversation from receiver in 2016.

Montgomery, who amassed 1,171 all-purpose yards a year ago, spent his offseason working with running-back coaches and specialists to make sure he was where he needed to be at the start of camp.

At first glance, the third-year playmaker looks the part.

"He's just stepped out in front and just keeps growing," McCarthy said. "He's been able to focus on the position, so he's very comfortable. Obviously the understanding and details of the things he was asked to do and rep those things from Day 1 obviously helps him out a lot. He looks good. I'm very pleased with the way he's stepped to the front of the class."

While Montgomery enters camp as the bona-fide starter, the situation behind him is more fluid. The rookie draft picks and starting fullback Aaron Ripkowski all will be battling to spell Montgomery during the preseason and beyond.

All three rookies bring something different to the offense. While injuries slowed Mays' senior year at Utah State, Williams (BYU) and Aaron Jones (UTEP) each finished their college careers as their respective school's all-time leading rushers.

As great as the college production is, McCarthy places the heaviest emphasis on the running backs' ability to play on every down in the Packers' no-huddle offense. That development process began as soon as the rookies walked into the building.

"The first job responsibility is you want your running backs to all be three-down players," McCarthy said. "You want the element of no-huddle. You want to be able to turn that on anytime you're in a game. That's the way you want to play. That's always been a focus and that's the way they're trained.

"If I was to (discuss a key) job responsibility, it's the ability to play on third down because obviously all these guys can play on first and second down otherwise they wouldn't be here."

Running back isn't the only position where the Packers want to see growth this summer. There are several jobs and responsibilities up for grabs on special teams with only kicker Mason Crosby returning from last year's core of specialists.

Undrafted punter Justin Vogel and free-agent long-snapper Derek Hart will look to prove themselves worthy of jobs, with opportunity also available on the Packers' return units following the departure of Micah Hyde.

On a lighter note, new tight end Martellus Bennett arranged some unique sleeping accommodations for himself after arriving in Green Bay in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

Needing to be at the facility at 6 a.m. for physicals, Bennett posted on Instagram a video of himself setting up a pillow by his locker after he missed check-in at the St. Norbert College dorms.

Bennett playfully added in the video, "Sleeping on the floor actually doesn't bother me. I actually like to sleep on the floor from time to time."

Said McCarthy: "I heard all about it. I was here late last night, so he must have come after I left. I usually don't check lockers for people sleeping."

Joking aside, Bennett and fellow tight ends Lance Kendricks and Richard Rodgers are expected to have a large role in the offense this season. More specifically, Bennett's blocking ability at the line of scrimmage should provide a new wrinkle for the Packers.

"We'll have more of that than we've had in a long time here," McCarthy said. "If there's one thing from a job responsibility for the tight end position, I think that would probably be the biggest change."

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