Pass-catching skills a constant focus for Aaron Jones

Packers’ third-year running back determined to display an all-around game

RB Aaron Jones
RB Aaron Jones

GREEN BAY – There's never a dull moment for Aaron Jones at practice.

If the Packers' No. 1 running back isn't leading his position group in drills or taking the first couple of snaps in 11-on-11, he's off to the side catching passes off a JUGS machine or from position coach Ben Sirmans.

Jones is using every available chance during the early days of training camp to work on his skills in the passing game. A goal of his from the time last season ended was to make himself a more well-rounded running back, and with the opportunities he's sensing will come his way in new Head Coach Matt LaFleur's offense, both urgency and incentive exist.

"I've done a lot of work," Jones said after the Packers' second practice of training camp Friday. "If he's going to be putting me out there at wide receiver or using me in different ways in the pass game, I have to be ready. I'm confident in my hands. I'm going to continue to work them and be ready for when my number's called.

"(Find) any running back who doesn't like to be involved in the pass game. I haven't met one. Everybody likes to get involved, they like to touch the ball."

Jones' focus on expanding his game went beyond offseason workouts, OTAs and minicamp this past spring.

When he was back home in El Paso, Texas, he rounded up a few local high school quarterbacks to throw to him while he ran the route tree. He even had them intentionally throw bad passes so he'd have to make difficult catches.

He does the same thing with the JUGS machine at Ray Nitschke Field, aiming it at his knees or somewhere off-target to increase the challenge and his concentration.

"So if it's put behind me, I can still go and get it. If it's put too high, I can go and get it," he said. "I almost came down with one yesterday."

Indeed he did, reaching up in the back of the end zone and nearly hauling in a spectacular one-handed catch in Thursday's first practice. Safety Josh Jones knocked it out just as he tried to bring it in to his chest, prompting the young running back to say he wished he'd just held the ball away from his body as he came down.

The fact that he could even think about making a one-handed snag in that fashion speaks to all his offseason efforts, including those of his hometown high school QBs, to whom Jones gave thanks as well as a great memory.

"They played it cool at first, and then after, 'Can I take a picture?'" Jones said. "I was like, 'Of course,' and I took them to go get some smoothies."

While averaging a robust 5.5 yards per carry with 12 rushing touchdowns through his first two NFL seasons, Jones has posted modest receiving numbers (35 catches, 228 yards, one TD) thus far as a pro.

He expects that to change in LaFleur's offense with the short, quick throws to backs that are made available to the QBs. Confirming his status as the top back on the team right now, the coaches have consistently given Jones first reps in 11-on-11 work throughout OTAs and the opening days of camp, followed by fellow 2017 draft pick Jamaal Williams and rookie sixth-rounder Dexter Williams.

"It's definitely a confidence booster, knowing they trust me," Jones said. "'Hey, go ahead, this is you.'"

Jones' other primary offseason pursuit has already been well-documented, changing his diet to remake his body with the idea he'll be better built to withstand the rigors of the long NFL season.

Multiple knee injuries have cost Jones five games through his first two seasons and limited his workload in several others. Because of that, Jones feels some outside observers are overlooking him.

Whether or not that's true, it's motivation he'll use to make the most of what's ahead, in the running or passing game.

"I feel like I have a lot to prove, not just staying healthy and staying on the field, but just overall. I feel like I have a lot to prove," he said.

"I've got a lot more that I can do on the field, I've got a lot more goals I want to reach. I feel like the past two years have just been the beginning, stair steps, and I've just got to stay healthy and I think a lot of good things are going to happen."

Check out photos from the second day of training camp at Nitschke Field.

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