GREEN BAY — Everyone, it appears, thought that Aaron Jones was capable of this. They just weren’t sure when the Green Bay Packers rookie running back would get a chance to show what they claim to have already known.
Davante Adams knew. He wanted to make it clear after Jones ran for 125 yards during the Packers’ 35-31 victory over the Dallas Cowboys last Sunday at AT&T Stadium that he’d liked Jones throughout the offseason organized team activity practices and training camp, going so far as to playfully suggest the Packers scouting staff might want to consult him in the future.
“Man, that’s my dark horse. I’ve been saying that ever since OTAs,” Adams said. “People don’t want to listen, (but) I’m like Ted Thompson, (Bill) Belichick when it comes to scouting the talent out here. That’s my dog. He’s a reliable guy, and he’s just a good kid. A lot of talent, obviously. I’m real excited for what’s going to happen with him for the rest of the season.”
Bryan Bulaga knew. Like the rest of his offensive line mates, the veteran right tackle liked what he saw from Jones in practice.
“We saw in training camp what type of back he could be,” Bulaga said. “He got his opportunity and took advantage of it.”
Mike McCarthy knew. Although the 12th-year coach admitted he regretted not getting his three rookie running backs – Jamaal Williams (a fourth-round pick from BYU), Jones (a fifth-rounder from UTEP) and Devante Mays (a seventh-rounder from Utah State) – more work during the preseason, McCarthy insisted that he had a pretty good handle on each of their strengths as the regular season began.
That’s why McCarthy said that what the 5-foot-9, 208-pound Jones did against the Cowboys was merely a confirmation of his abilities – even though Jones was the odd man out on opening day, as he was inactive for the Packers’ Sept. 10 season-opening victory over Seattle.
“It’s going to take them all, so I want to be able to make hard decisions on who’s going to be on the (46-man active game day) roster,” McCarthy said as his team turned its attention to this Sunday’s game at Minnesota. “That’s what this league is all about. Unfortunately, we haven’t had that yet this year (because of injuries). But that’s what good football teams do. That’s why everybody has to get ready.”
Alvin Jones knew. A senior at Texas El-Paso, Alvin is Aaron’s twin brother and FaceTimes with him every day. When the two brothers talked after Sunday’s game, it was the first thing Alvin said to him.
“He just told me he knew I could do it. He’s been watching me do it my whole life,” Aaron Jones recounted. “I watch all of his games and he watches all of mine. Right after the game, he was the first person I was off to the side with, talking to.”
And Aaron Rodgers knew. He said so after Jones was pressed into duty Sept. 28 against Chicago – when starter Ty Montgomery and top backup Jamaal Williams left the game with injuries – saying he’d been “a big fan of his since the beginning.” After Jones’ performance against the Cowboys – both running the ball and providing pass-protection while the cobbled-together offensive line continued its shuffling – Rodgers reiterated his confidence in Jones.
“He’s great. I told him before the game, ‘I have absolutely zero worries about him back there,’” Rodgers said after watching Jones break free for a 15-yard run – and then smartly get out of bounds – during the drive that led to Rodgers’ game-winning touchdown pass to Adams.
“He is a great kid. He’s a rookie, but his vision was fantastic. He gives you a lot of confidence that we can give him the ball on the last drive. Not only does he get through the line and make a nice run, but the kid runs out of bounds. That’s stuff you can’t coach. You love the instincts there. He’s a talented guy. I’m really proud of him.”
But here’s the thing: Had Montgomery not suffered broken ribs against the Bears, and had Williams, who replaced him, not bruised his knee later in the game, how long would it have taken the Packers to get him involved?
In their first three games, Montgomery played nearly 90 percent of the Packers’ offensive snaps to that point. He also carried five times on their opening drive against the Bears before leaving the game because of the rib injury. Jones, meanwhile, had yet to play a single offensive snap before Montgomery and Williams went down.
Now, after his late run on the game-winning drive, his a nifty 9-yard catch that set up his 7-yard touchdown run on the next play, and a crucial fourth-down conversion earlier in the game, Jones clearly merits playing time – even when Montgomery is cleared by the medical staff.
“It takes time,” McCarthy said. “It’s a young man’s league, I get it. Aaron had an opportunity, and man, he cashed in. I’m proud of him. He’s earned the right to have more opportunities and move forward. And that’s not lost in how we plan and we go (forward). But this is not a one-man show.”
McCarthy suggested he’d like a “one-four” punch instead of a traditional “one-two” punch with Jones and a healthy Montgomery, but it’s unrealistic to think the Packers can get all four backs involved in a meaningful way each week. But Jones clearly needs to be a big part of that.
“I just think he’s unique,” said offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett, a former running back himself. “And he’s a kid that, you love the person. When he came into our culture, our environment, you could tell he was going to fit in as far as just the mindset, just the attitude. Very coachable, and he wants to improve. And that’s a big part of how players come into this system and go from good to great. You have to want to improve each and every day.”
For his part, that’s precisely what Jones is focused on.
“I’ve always wanted to be a go-to guy. I think I took a step in the right direction,” he said Monday. “It was good knowing I can do things better and I still had a good game. There’s always room for improvement.”