It can be tough to get a feel for how a team’s ground game is performing when players aren’t wearing pads for practice. Blocking is mostly nominal without shoulder pads, and run fits and cutbacks are more theoretical than actual.
But the theory is now a thing of the past. The Green Bay Packers wrapped up their first padded practice of 2020 Tuesday morning, and the player the Packers will be counting on to do most of their running this season was happy with what he saw.
“Everything’s been looking crisp to me so far,” said Aaron Jones, speaking with reporters Tuesday afternoon. “This is our second year in this offense, so I think a lot of us are feeling comfortable and know the details.”
That should be music to the Packers’ ears. Jones was productive in his first season running Matt LaFleur’s offense, posting career highs in yards and touchdowns while playing all 16 games for the first time in his career. Jones isn’t content to rest on that performance, either. Heading into a contract year, he’s aiming to become a more complete back, adding more receiving skills to an already noteworthy bag of tricks.
“I know the more that you can do as a running back, the better,” he said. “You’re versatile, you’re a weapon, and a lot of time you’ll get a mismatch with a linebacker on you.”
He wants to contribute in other parts of the passing game as well. At times, Jones has been mildly criticized for his pass protection. And though those concerns may be somewhat overblown (he allowed just one pressure in 32 pass-blocking opportunities last year), he still wants to add to that part of his game.
“Pass protection, it’s a fight,” he said. “It’s a mentality. You know they’re coming in full speed, and you gotta sit in there and put up a fight and protect your quarterback.”
As he attempts to grow as a player and build on his excellent 2019 season, Jones will be in some unfamiliar territory. His girlfriend and newborn baby are still in Texas, their travel limited by the pandemic. Jones’ parents, meanwhile, won’t be able to attend games this season due to restrictions on fan attendance, marking the first time in Jones’ career at any level that his parents won’t be physically present for one of his games.
That’s something special, and you really can’t take it for granted,” Jones said. “I know they’ll be here, probably driving me up to the game. So they’ll be talking to me right up until I go on the field.”