The running back position is back to prominence in Green Bay once again, with head coach Matt LaFleur running the offense and developing the bulk of the scheme. In 2019, his first season on the job, the Packers’ running backs were key components of the team’s passing game, totaling 101 of the team’s 356 pass completions on the season and accounting for 853 receiving yards.
In 2020, the Packers look ready to exploit those players’ strengths once again, and the team put its backs’ receiving chops on display in its second training camp practice on Monday. In particular, rookie AJ Dillon, who was lightly used as a receiver in college, got extensive work catching the football, and he impressed in drills, making a good impression on his new head coach.
“(Dillon has) definitely demonstrated the ability to show those natural hands,” LaFleur told reporters after practice on a Zoom call. “He can reach and pluck it out in front of him.”
Despite 845 carries and over 4,300 rushing yards in three years at Boston College, Dillon caught just 21 passes for 236 yards. He and the Packers’ brass noted after the draft that this was primarily a function of the Eagles’ offense, however, as Brian Gutekunst noted that his Combine tape opened some eyes to some untapped receiving chops. LaFleur hopes to explore that more throughout training camp, adding “It’s about getting him that experience in practice and putting him in situations he can do it, and today he showed he can.”
Another player whom LaFleur hopes to work into the offense is return specialist and all-around weapon Tyler Ervin, as the coach referred to him as both explosive and elusive. LaFleur noted that current offensive line coach Adam Stenavich held that same position at San Jose State when Ervin was playing college football there, and that the assistant has weighed in: “He’s been in our ear about what type of playmaker Swerve can be.”
For now, though, it’s a matter of finding out what Ervin’s best role is on offense: ‘We’re just gonna continue to try to give him opportunities to see what he can do,” LaFleur said. After Ervin worked primarily with the wide receivers in the opening practice on Saturday, he was back largely with the running backs on Monday, suggesting that the team will keep trying him all over to find where he can be most effective.
Meanwhile, LaFleur has also been impressed with an improved playcalling process so far in camp. Last season, the terminology seemed to be a challenge, as the Packers often ran the play clock down to its farthest extent. Through two practices, however, he’s happy with the early improvements in his offense’s understanding of the playbook: “Just getting in and out of the huddle, it’s night and day from where it was a year ago,” LaFleur said.
Finally, LaFleur noted that the Packers will put the pads on for the first time in camp for Tuesday’s practice.