Sometimes the forgotten man, Jamaal Williams ensures Packers’ run game is in good hands
GREEN BAY — What has impressed Aaron Rodgers most about Jamaal Williams this season has not been what he’s done on the field.
It wasn’t the way Williams put up much-needed big numbers — 15 carries for 95 yards (a 6.3-yard average) and a touchdown, plus six receptions for another 61 yards — in last Sunday’s 44-38 overtime victory over the New York Jets.
It wasn’t that Williams — the only proven, well-versed-in-the-offense back on the roster after Aaron Jones’ knee injury landed him on injured reserve and Ty Montgomery’s boneheaded fumble against the Los Angeles Rams in late October got him traded — played 86 of the Packers’ 91 offensive snaps in the game (95 percent).
It wasn’t even the I-will-not-be-denied way Williams found the end zone on his late first-half 7-yard run against the Jets; he was hit at the 4-yard line, lifted off the ground by another tackler at the 3, then somehow broke both tackles, kept his balance on one foot and one hand, and dove across the goal line just inside the pylon.
“It’s his personality,” the Packers’ quarterback said of Williams this week as the team prepped for Sunday’s regular-season finale against the Detroit Lions at Lambeau Field. “I think he’s a fantastic young player from an approach standpoint. At various times, if you think about the last couple of years, Ty was our guy, Jamaal’s started, Jones was a starter, Ty’s back in, Jamaal — they’d rotate the entire time.
“And as good as anybody if not better than the other two, the attitude that Jamaal has — and Jonesy as well — they have a great approach about their role, job responsibility and what’s expected of them. And during those times when (Williams) wasn’t the guy, he was incredible during the week (with) the approach, his attitude.
“You root for guys like that, you really do, because he’s such a good locker room guy, good team guy. Never bitching, never complaining. I told him before the game, I said, ‘120 yards and a touchdown today,’ and he actually had more counting the receiving yards. But he’s just a guy who’s always in a right spot. His aptitude for the game is fantastic.
“You’ve got to feel great moving forward with the way that he’s played and the way that Aaron Jones has played and feeling good about the backfield for years to come.”
The 5-foot-9, 208-pound Jones, who sustained a knee injury at Chicago, might be the more explosive of the two — he finishes the season having carried 133 times for 728 yards (a 5.5-yard average) and eight touchdowns in only 12 games — but the 6-foot, 213-pound Williams is more physical and more capable of carrying a heavy workload. Drafted one round apart last year (Williams in the fourth, Jones in the fifth), the two have a healthy friendship and competition, having known each other since before the draft because they share an agent (Leigh Steinberg).
But as Jones emerged as one of the offense’s biggest weapons, Williams’ opportunities were curtailed. Before Jones’ injury against the Bears, Williams hadn’t had a game with more than seven rushing attempts since the Packers’ win over Buffalo in late September. He then had as many carries against the Bears (12) as he had the entire month of November in games against New England, Miami, Seattle and Minnesota.
After Jones left the Chicago game, Williams turned those 12 rushes into 55 yards and a touchdown, and also caught four passes for 42 yards. He also remains the team’s best pass-protecting back. Against the Jets, interim head coach Joe Philbin stuck with Williams even though the team had added ex-Washington Redskins running back Kapri Bibbs via waivers and Lavon Coleman and Danny Vitale as practice-squad call-ups in recent weeks.
“The guy, he battled his tail off,” interim coach Joe Philbin said of Williams. “I thought he just played a really fine football game. What’s that saying, ‘Necessity is the mother of invention’ or something? Sometimes you do what you have to do when you have to do it. I think that’s kind of what Sunday was all about. We have some other young guys that we like at that position, but he seemed to have a hot hand. He was on top of his game, and so we kind of rode him.”
That figures to again be the case against the Lions, too. For his part, though, Williams said his approach won’t change, whether it’s as the starter on Sunday or whatever happens with the running back rotation in 2019.
“It’s the same mindset I have all the time, no matter if I’m starting or not starting. I’m just going in there doing my job, working hard, trying to punish defenders and just give my team juice, just let them know I’m here to help,” said Williams, who enters the finale having carried 113 times for 460 yards (4.1-yard average) with three touchdowns on the season. “Block, run, do whatever I can for us to get a ‘W.’
“I’m just grateful. Grateful. I just feel like my hard work and everything is paying off.”
‘It’s pretty scary’
Wide receiver Randall Cobb cleared the concussion protocol and returned to practice Thursday, but admitted afterward he was frightened by the after-effects he felt when it happened in Chicago.
“I didn’t know where I was. Yeah. Apparently, they called for me to go on punt return and I had no idea,” said Cobb, who did not play last week. “When it happened — or when we think it happened, we don’t know for sure if I took a hit earlier in the game and then the hit that Eddie Jackson had was just another one that rattled me — but I didn’t remember the last three plays that I played. Had no clue about the interception (late in the game) until I got on the bus. I don’t remember anything until I got back to the locker room, so there’s like a 10-minute span where I had amnesia.
“It’s pretty scary. Have you ever had a time period where you just don’t remember anything? It’s pretty scary.”
The Packers got further good news on the injury front as left tackle David Bakhtiari (hip) was back at practice after sitting out Wednesday. Bakhtiari had said on Wednesday he expected to be good to go against the Lions. … Linebacker Clay Matthews (back), tight end Jimmy Graham (knee/thumb) and defensive end Fadol Brown (foot) also returned to action. … Wide receiver Davante Adams (knee), cornerback Jaire Alexander (groin) and wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown (concussion) remained sidelined. Adams, who is close to a pair of single-season receiving records, said he expects to play and did do some side work with trainers.