Packers’ RBs, OLBs draw interest in OTAs

chris havel packers news

By Chris Havel
Special to Event USA

1st-year coach LaFleur tears Achilles, must learn to coach from a golf cart

GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Packers’ second week of OTA’s was actually quite eventful as these things go.

Running backs Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams showed up in great shape and ready to get to work. And outside linebackers coach Mike Smith offered potential roles for veterans Preston and Za’Darius Smith and top draft pick Rashan Gary.

Furthermore, first-year head coach Matt LaFleur tore his Achilles tendon while playing basketball Wednesday at the team’s facility.

Let’s start with the running backs.

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For years knowledgeable Packers fans have been begging the head coach to incorporate the running game into the attack. That was for good reason: Last season the Packers attempted to throw more than any other team in the NFL.

Their lack of balance was staggering at times.

Whether it was preference or personnel or a combination of factors the running game never quite came together.

That is expected to change under LaFleur.

Jones is excited about the potential.

“He’s going to marry the run and the pass game up,” Jones told reporters last week. “The run game is going to be heavy – not heavy, but we’re going to rely on the run.”

Jones, who has failed to finish each of his first two NFL seasons because of injuries, arrived in tip-top shape. He believes it will increase his durability and ultimately his production.

His 5.47 yards-per-carry average was tops in the NFL. But he only had 133 carries in 12 games. He missed the first two games of 2018 to a suspension. He missed the last two games to injury.

In hopes of upping his game, and improving his health, Jones dramatically altered his diet. He cut out the candy and replaced it with quinoa.

“I was big into candy,” Jones told reporters. “I’ll turn and see candy and I’m like, ‘Man, I want that.’ But I know how I feel in my body so that’s a big thing. I’ve been eating very clean – chicken, rice, sweet potatoes, steak, quinoa, things like that – just very clean.”

Jones said he’s always liked good food.

“It was just hard to put the candy down,” he said.

Jones, who weighs 205, reduced his body fat from 11 percent to 5.3 percent while maintaining his weight.

Meantime, Williams dropped his body fat while holding tight at a lean 218 pounds. He said it will increase his agility and should make him more explosive.
A year ago LaFleur’s Tennessee offense ranked 7th in rushing.

It’ll take Jones and Williams, with perhaps an assist from rookie Dexter Williams, to give Green Bay’s running game legs.

Meantime, OLB coach Mike Smith is excited by the prospects of coaching a unit that includes the Smiths, Gary, Kyler Fackrell and others going into the season.

Gary lined up both inside and outside in coordinator Mike Pettine’s defense. It was a testament to his versatility.

“That’s why he’s here,” LaFleur said of Gary.

Smith agreed.

“(Gary) was the best in college football at outside linebacker,” Smith said. “That’s the way I evaluated him.”

Smith also said Gary “loves football” and that his lack of sacks in college (3.5 last year at Michigan) isn’t a concern.

“I never looked at the sack (totals). I care about pressure. I’ll take a guy who has zero sacks but affects the quarterback. He’s still raw and has a lot to learn, but I see him affecting the QB.”

As for the Smiths – Preston and Za’Darius – it appears they will line up at multiple positions, too.

Preston, an anchor against the run, can also rush off the edge. Za’Darius, who is perceived as the better pass rusher, will line up both off the edge and inside at times depending on matchups.

Pettine seems pleased with the offseason additions.

“I didn’t have to tell (GM Brian Gutekunst) what the deficiencies were. He knew,” Smith said. “(We) wanted to add some big, explosive athletes on defense.”

It’s up to the staff to make it all come together.

LaFleur’s job didn’t get any easier with the torn Achilles. He’ll have to learn to coach from a golf cart, something that isn’t going to be easy for a “hands-on” coach like LaFleur.

Then again, football is all about the art of adjustment.

LaFleur, 39, underwent surgery on Sunday.

Fortunately, he’ll have time to figure out how to proceed before the Packers kick off training camp in July.