Yes, Jordy Nelson is an NFL receiver. No, he doesn’t think he could have switched to running back in season, played 51 backfield snaps and carried the ball 16 times for 162 yards and two touchdowns in a 30-27 victory over the Bears at Soldier Field on Sunday.
“Absolutely not,” the Packers receiver said with a laugh.
He’s good. But he’s no Ty Montgomery, the Packers’ receiver-turned-running back, who kept his out-of-place number (88), but changed his skill set to help the Packers (8-6) find a running game in time for a playoff push that looked so unlikely when they were 4-6 a month ago.
“We’ve put a lot of people [at running back] this year,” Nelson said. “I’m one of the few that have not made it back there. And I’m very thankful for that.”
Last Sunday, the Vikings faced Frank Gore, the eighth-leading rusher in NFL history with 12,931 yards. Six days later, on Christmas Eve, they’ll take their minuscule playoff hopes to Lambeau Field to take on Montgomery and his 63 career carries, all but three of which have come since the Vikings beat the Packers 17-14 at U.S. Bank Stadium back in Week 2.
“They’re doing quite a few new things [in the running game],” said Vikings coach Mike Zimmer, whose team gave up 161 yards rushing in Sunday’s 34-6 loss to the Colts. “The last five weeks, I think, they’ve had the most 20-yard completions in the league because they’re running the ball better.
‘‘I know how good [Aaron] Rodgers is when he gets opportunities to throw it down the field.”
Montgomery is a 6-foot, 216-pound third-round pick out of Stanford a year ago. He played receiver, running back and quarterback at St. Mark’s School of Texas in Dallas. At Stanford, he primarily played receiver, but was considered a hybrid with kick return skills going into the draft.
How he ended up as Packers coach Mike McCarthy’s full-time lead running back was the product of necessity. Actually, make that desperation.
Starter Eddie Lacy played five games and landed on injured reserve because of an ankle injury. James Starks missed time because of minor knee surgery, returned and was sidelined again because of a concussion suffered in a car accident. Even Montgomery had to miss the Falcons game Oct. 30 because of symptoms related to a sickle-cell trait.
“It’s definitely been a different year for us,” said McCarthy, noting that he can’t recall ever juggling this many running backs. “I know the Vikings have had a lot of injuries also. We’ve had a lot of injuries. I think really with these injuries, it attacks a single position group.”
The Packers have 11 players with a carry this season. Fullback Aaron Ripkowski has 25 carries. Former Chief Knile Davis arrived via trade, had five carries and was released. Don Jackson, a practice squad promotion, got 10 carries. Former Seahawk Christine Michael joined the team and has 24 carries.
Receiver Randall Cobb has had 46 snaps from the backfield. Receiver Davante Adams has had 11.
But through it all, Montgomery became the answer. With 390 yards on 60 carries (6.5), he’s shown more patience and explosiveness than Starks while also pass protecting well enough to stay in the game as a three-down player.
So eight days ago, McCarthy declared Montgomery a full-time running back even though Montgomery had never carried the ball more than nine times in a game.
The Bears knew what was coming last Sunday. After all, Montgomery had nine carries for 60 yards and 10 catches for 66 yards in a 26-10 victory over Chicago at Lambeau Field on Oct. 20.
“I think at first, we all thought he would be a third-down guy, a screen guy, running routes out of the backfield,” Nelson said. “But as he’s learned the offense, it’s built into more than that.”
According to Pro Football Focus, 156 of Montgomery’s 162 yards against the Bears came after first contact. He caused seven missed tackles, tops in the league last week.
But what about that number? Eighty-eight? Coming out of the backfield? Seems weird.
“Hey, when I was in college, I walked on as a safety and had No. 27,” Nelson said. “When they switched me to receiver, I just kept it.
‘‘A lot of people wondered why I had 27. You can maybe make the number stick out a little more. I always said, ‘You make the number. The number doesn’t make you.’ I kind of like having 88 back there.”
Mark Craig is an NFL and Vikings Insider. Twitter: @MarkCraigNFL E-mail: email@example.com