GREEN BAY — Before the Green Bay Packers worry about where they’re going to line Ty Montgomery up this season, their greater concern is where the wide receiver-turned-running back can’t afford to be: The training room.
Montgomery enters 2018 — the final year of his rookie deal after entering the league as a third-round pick out of Stanford in 2015 — having played in just 29 of a possible 48 games in his three seasons.
So while head coach Mike McCarthy said during the annual NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis that Montgomery is a valuable “multi-positional player,” McCarthy also emphasized just how vital it will be for Montgomery to avoid the injury bug.
“The two most important abilities in all this is availability and accountability,” McCarthy said. “Ty, his challenge has been availability. He's had availability issues every year.”
Montgomery’s injury issues began as a rookie, when he battled an ankle injury that eventually required surgery and limited him to just six games. In 2016, he played in all but one game — which he missed when he showed symptoms stemming from his having the sickle-cell trait —and emerged as the Packers’ lead running back after injuries to Eddie Lacy and James Starks.
But Montgomery’s bad injury luck resurfaced last season, when he started the year as the No. 1 running back but suffered broken ribs twice and landed on season-ending injured reserve because of a wrist injury. In his absence, rookie running backs Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams emerged — although they both had their own injury issues that kept them from playing in all 16 games.
In the eight games he played — including a Sept. 28 game against Chicago in which he broke his ribs on his first carry and missed most of the game — Montgomery carried 71 times for 273 yards (3.8-yard average) and three touchdowns while catching 23 passes for 173 yards and one TD.
With Williams and Jones looking like the 1-2 punch McCarthy wants at the position, Montgomery could be the odd man out and might be better off returning to receiver. McCarthy, though, said he will still be considered a running back.
“The two young guys, they don’t have it figured out, either. They both had to fight through injuries to play (as well),” McCarthy said. “That’s why you need more than three running backs.”
At the same time, Montgomery can still line up as a slot receiver, or even outside. He can also be an effective pass-catcher out of the backfield, so the Packers would like to put his varied skill set to use — if he can stay healthy.
“Ty is a very, very versatile player. He can do a lot of things,” first-year general manager Brian Gutekunst said. “I think having a guy like that (means) we can kind of plug him in where we need him. I thought he was an outstanding running back. Making that transition is not an easy one, and I thought he did it fairly quickly. I think we’re big on trying to acquire as many versatile players — whether it be on offense or defense — as we can, and Ty is one of those guys. So I think he can do a multitude of things. I don’t think you have to pigeon hole him in one thing.”
Added McCarthy: “In Ty’s particular case, his availability the last three years has been his challenge. But he’s a multi-positional player. So he’s a running back, but he gives us great flexibility to use him so many different ways. That won’t change. We’re going to need all those guys next year. So that’s going to be our approach.”