Le’Veon Bell is grabbing the headlines. But Ty Montgomery could well be the running back that truly transforms the New York Jets offense.
When you go a minimum four days off between games, professional football is the sport best fueled by the phenomenon of recency bias. Any good play a player makes can be instantly offset by the slightest error. Just ask any quarterback who throws for 340 yards, three touchdowns … and an interception in the fourth quarter. Individual schadenfreude, after all, is the lifeblood of social media.
Ty Montgomery is one of the latest to experience such a transition. The Stanford alum is one of the more unique cases in recent history. Bearing No. 88 in the backfield, the New York Jets dynamic football player doubles as a rusher/receiver hybrid.
It was a trailblazing role he filled in most efficiently in the offense overseen by Aaron Rodgers. His rushes were often split with other backs, but Montgomery tallied a very respectable 4.8 yards per rushing attempt and also lived up to the numerals on his jersey. Montgomery was never a 1,000-yard rusher, only topping the Packers with 457 in 2016.
Yet, he was always a weapon. Teams had to plan around him, prepare for the unexpected.
Edgar Bennett would probably know best. The former Packers rusher and Super Bowl champion offered perhaps the best assessment of Montgomery in 2016.
“You can’t really say he’s a running back, he’s a receiver. He’s just a versatile football player who’s very successful at what he’s able to do,” Bennett, then the Packers offensive coordinator, told Genaro C. Armas of the Associated Press. “He’s a matchup nightmare for a lot of different teams.”
A Lambeau Leap became a dreadful fall from grace for Montgomery last season. One mistake eliminated three prior years of dual-threat antics.
In a late October game, the Packers were taking the undefeated Los Angeles Rams to the brink. The hometown Rams led 29-27, but 125 seconds remained on the clock. That might as well have been an eternity considering the Packers had Rodgers at quarterback. Montgomery fielded a kick from Greg Zuerlein in the end zone, but a hit from Ramik Wilson jarred the ball loose. Los Angeles recovered, allowing them to run out the remaining time to secure a victory.
The loss would up derailing Green Bay’s season. It began what became the final days of Mike McCarthy’s coaching era. The heartbreaker in Los Angeles commenced a 1-5 stretch for the Packers, who missed the playoffs for the second consecutive season.
Montgomery didn’t stick around to see the aftermath. He was dealt to Baltimore for a seventh-round pick fewer than 48 hours after the game. The Jets awaited after seven uneventful games with the Ravens.
Upon signing Montgomery to a one-year, $895,000 deal, the Jets went against the football consensus. They opted to believe that Montgomery’s strong antics outweighed one error magnified by the game’s conditions.
“It was a surprising deal when he came in here. I was surprised he wasn’t signed yet,” Jets head coach Adam Gase told SNY’s Nick Wojton earlier this month. With the surprising gem locked up, Gase immediately sought ways to incorporate Montgomery in an offense desperate for game-changing weapons.
“The fact that we had a shot at him coming here and when we got him signed, the wheels started turning on offense as far as, ‘All right, what are we going to do? How are we going to use these guys? What’s it going to look like?’ So, we’re experimenting with all that stuff and his versatility and his flexibility and his knowledge and he’s extremely smart. So, we put a lot on his plate and he’s able to play a lot of different roles for us.”
No one’s expecting Montgomery to usurp Le’Veon Bell for the Jets’ top rushing slot. But Bell’s preseason rest has allowed Montgomery to take on a larger role and give a glimpse of what’s perhaps to come with him infused in it.
With Bell sitting out, Montgomery has had a chance to run with the Jets’ top unit. He was able to truly raise his stock during Thursday’s 22-10 preseason victory. Montgomery found himself in a familiar place: an average in the five-yard range.
He ended the game with 36 yards on seven carries, teaming up with Sam Darnold to help account for all 66 yards on the Jets’ opening possession. A strong change-of-direction carry led to the capper, a one-yard carry for a 6-0 lead.
Just a simple inside zone split and Ty Montgomery walks in on the weak side. 6-0 #Jets.
The greatest difference between Sam Darnold in year one and year two is the QB TRUST. Adam Gase trusts the kid to control a no-huddle and give him the L.O.S. freedom.pic.twitter.com/ShzIZr4pPF
— ESNY (@EliteSportsNY) August 15, 2019
Montgomery’s partner in the backfield has taken very positively to his collaboration with the veteran. Technically speaking, they would’ve been college conference rivals…Darnold is a USC Trojan while Montgomery wore the colors of Stanford…but he’s more than happy to put Pac-12 allegiances aside for a new partnership on the other side of the country. Speaking to Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News, Darnold was pleased to call Montgomery “a threat”.
In the same Mehta report, the hybrid was quick to return the praise. Much like the quarterback himself, he believes he could learn a lot from yet another Pac-12 student.
“I see a lot of elite talent in Sam Darnold. But I’m not going to compare him to Aaron (Rodgers),” Montgomery said. “There are some ways that I think about the game now. And think about the efficiency of an offense and how it should move that I can maybe give to Sam and say, ‘Hey, this is something I learned from No. 12. What do you think about it? Maybe you can put this to use.’ He and I have conversations and try to help one another when we can.”
With luck and help from a rare offensive weapon in the Jets’ system, perhaps some of those conversations can center on big plays made on game day.