Packers' offense embracing challenge of another unconventional week

Tyler Ervin, Dexter Williams could be next running backs up in San Francisco

RB Tyler Ervin

GREEN BAY – Flexibility has been the name of the game for the Packers' offense through the first two months of the 2020 NFL season and this week has been no exception.

Two days from its Thursday night game in San Francisco, Green Bay already knows it'll be down two running backs after AJ Dillon and Jamaal Williams have been placed on the COVID-19/reserve list.

Meanwhile, Aaron Jones' status remains unclear due to the calf injury that's sidelined the Packers' leading rusher from a year ago for the past two games.

With NFL teams unable to sign players off the street due to COVID-19 testing protocols, the Packers are preparing for the possibility of deploying a backfield consisting of versatile veteran Tyler Ervin and practice-squad member Dexter Williams against the 49ers.

Perhaps the one silver lining for Green Bay is it's been in this situation before. Although this week marked the team's first positive COVID-19 case, the Packers have played without several of their key offensive players at various intervals.

Accordingly, Head Coach Matt LaFleur and his staff have made ends meet in an offense that's seen 11 different skill-position players play at least 100 offensive snaps through seven games.

"I don't feel like we're ever hamstringed necessarily based on some of the things that we've done," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said Tuesday. "We've had to mix some personnels up and move some guys around to try and get our best guys on the field and give us some advantages through the use of personnel. That's not going to change.

"I think that's the beauty in what Matt and the offensive staff has done this year is finding creative ways to get our best guys on the field and put them in positions to get the ball in space; no different this week."

Of course, the backfield was a big reason the Packers were able to navigate the loss of three-time Pro Bowler Davante Adams (two games) and No. 2 receiver Allen Lazard (four games) so smoothly. In Adams' absence, for example, both Jones and Jamaal Williams took on expanded roles in the passing game.

Since drafting Williams and Jones in the fourth and fifth rounds, respectively, in 2017, the Packers have yet to play a regular-season or playoff game without either running back on the field.

On paper, Dexter Williams is the most logical option to line up in the backfield if Jones doesn't suit up Thursday night. A sixth-round pick out of Notre Dame a year ago, Williams spent all of his rookie season on the Packers' 53-man roster but only saw action in four games, carrying the ball five times for 11 yards.

The 5-foot-11, 212-pound running back didn't make Green Bay's active roster coming out of training camp this year but has been on the Packers' practice squad all season. He was elevated two weeks ago during Green Bay's 35-20 win over Houston, but played only on special teams.

"I love Dex," Rodgers said. "Dex has a really good attitude. He's done a nice job of growing up in the offense and feeling more comfortable with the checks and his responsibilities in pass blocking and route running.

"It seems like he's a little more settled this year and feeling more confident."

Ervin continues to be an intriguing ace in the hole for the Packers' offense. While one of the leading rushers in the country during his senior year at San Jose State in 2015, the 5-foot-10, 192-pound playmaker has been utilized more as a pass-catcher and returner throughout his four-plus NFL seasons.

Green Bay took things a step further this summer when it moved Ervin into its receiver room. Since then, he's predominately been the player responsible for running pre-snap fly-sweep motions. Ervin has 76 total yards on 10 touches in five games this season. He missed two other games with a wrist injury.

"He can do a lot," said Rodgers of Ervin. "He can play receiver. He can be our fly-option guy. He can play in the backfield. With those two guys in the protocol, we're going to have to have him play an even bigger role this week to make sure we're getting our best guys on the field."

In a conference call with reporters Tuesday, NFL officials Dawn Aponte and Dr. Allen Sills said the league has been in constant communication with the Packers and is planning to play Thursday night's game as scheduled.

Coming off Sunday's game with the Vikings, LaFleur and his coaches already had planned for a workweek that was heavy on mental preparation and walkthroughs. The positive COVID-19 test result forced Green Bay to work remotely Monday before returning to the building on Tuesday.

While the backfield might look different against the 49ers, the Packers say it won't all be on the running backs. Both Rodgers and Adams acknowledged it's going to take everyone to pull through a unique week in an already unconventional season.

"I think as a competitor you're always excited about the challenges," Rodgers said. "You'd love having your guys in there at full strength, for sure, but there is that fun challenge of going in there without some of those guys and trying to find a way to win."

Related Content


Action Needed: Update your Packers Mobile App!

Fans attending any games during the 2023 season should update their Packers mobile app due to important upgrades and enhancements.