By Genaro C. Armas
AP Sports Writer
GREEN BAY, Wis. — Getting on the field for the Green Bay Packers as a running back means in large part showing competence in one important skill that has nothing to do with carrying the ball.
They have to protect quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
So consider pass protection a work-in-progress for the young corps of running backs at Packers camp. The team had its first practice in pads of the preseason, so there are still six weeks to perfect the nuances of pass-blocking until the season begins.
“Now let’s see them do that in pads. So just take another step,” coach Mike McCarthy said on Saturday. “I think we’ll all be watching the pass protection, because that’s the thing you really have to get the pads to get a look at it.”
The Packers have revamped the running back position this year. Eddie Lacy signed with the Seattle Seahawks as a free agent in the offseason, while longtime backup James Starks wasn’t re-signed.
That leaves converted receiver Ty Montgomery as the starter at running back going into his first full season in the backfield. The Packers took three running backs in the draft, led by BYU’s Jamaal Williams in the fourth round.
They’re all learning about pass protection together.
“It’s definitely something I think I got better at today. I had a couple bad reps because I got overly aggressive, some technique stuff. But it is stuff I’m going to learn,” Montgomery said.
Linebacker Jake Ryan, a third-year pro like Montgomery, beat the running back in one blocking drill. Montgomery dusted himself off and learned from his mistake.
“I just need to watch the film, fix my technique and I’m going to get better at it,” he said. “I’m not going to really apologize for not being the best at pass pro, and I never had to do it before, so I definitely think I got better today and made some strides.”
Montgomery showed big-play potential after being moved to the backfield down the stretch last season. He also poses a threat as a pass-catcher out of the backfield.
Williams is the all-time leading rusher at BYU with 3,901 yards. He had to adapt to pass-blocking in college, though Williams said he loves dishing out blocks now.
But learning how to protect at the NFL level will be even tougher.
“It’s a lot,” Williams said with a laugh. “And it’s a lot of checks. You’ve got one of the greatest quarterbacks (in Rodgers) over there, he’s going to be scrambling and doing everything … A running back’s first job is to make sure his quarterback is protected, because if you can’t do that, who’s going to hand the ball off to you?”
Left tackle David Bakhtiari walked on the field looking like a champion with a belt slung over his shoulder. The offensive and defensive lines are haggling over a different kind of title in Green Bay.
The heat got turned up for what is typically already a spirited practice each year after Bakhtiari added heavy stakes for the winners of drill work between the offensive and defensive lines — a championship belt that looks like it would go to the winner of a heavyweight boxing match.
“Had to be heavyweights, obviously. I mean, we’re pretty big guys up front,” Bakhtiari said.
It appeared that the offense got to keep the belt after Saturday’s practice. Defensive lineman Mike Daniels is determined to get a hold of the belt when practice resumes on Monday.
“Oh, man. It’s all in good fun. You bring that belt out to practice, it keeps everybody going. And then it helps the young guys who are just getting here and it brings the element of, ‘Hey, we can enjoy practicing hard,'” Daniels said. “Football’s supposed to be fun. You’re supposed to have fun competing against one another.”
Receiver Trevor Davis stayed down on the field for a minute after falling hard to the turf while trying to catch a high pass. He later walked off, and Davis said afterward that he was OK after suffered a stinger. Davis, in his second year in the league, is one of the fastest players on the receiving corps.