One week is about all it took for Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones to go from breakout candidate to No. 1 worry after he missed seven straight training camp practices with a hamstring injury.
New head coach Matt LaFleur downplayed the injury at first last Wednesday, while steady No. 2 back Jamaal Williams sat out his third practice with a similar issue. Then Tuesday, the Packers scooped up another rusher off the waivers in Keith Ford after both Jones and Williams continued to be sidelined.
Now, with Jones expected to sit during Thursday night’s preseason opener against the Houston Texans, is it time to start worrying about the backfield situation in Green Bay?
Given that Jones is the undisputed top rushing option for the Packers, the cause for concern is certainly there for someone who was on track for a 1,000-yard season in 2018 before a knee injury robbed him of his final two games. He also missed the first two games of the year with a suspension after violating the NFL’s Substance Abuse Policy, yet still finished the year averaging 5.5 yards per carry.
None of that matter, though, if Jones’ injury leaves him unable to play. The Packers have no other choice but to find production elsewhere, same as they did when they called upon Jones in his 2017 rookie year when Williams and former running back Ty Montgomery — now with the Baltimore Ravens — went down with injuries.
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Forget for a minute Jones’ current hamstring injury or his season-ending knee injury from 2018. The red flags on the third-year running back’s health popped up a long time ago and added to the risk of the Packers taking him in the fifth round of the 2017 NFL Draft.
During his star tailback career at the University of Texas at El Paso — a hometown hero to the Miners fans after graduating from El Paso’s Burges High School — Jones tore a ligament in his left ankle as a junior and was forced to undergo season-ending surgery.
He bounced back less than a year later with the best season of his college career, collecting 1,773 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns on 229 carries. But endurance and perseverance are much different in the NFL than in college football, especially when comparing the toughness of the NFC North with UTEP’s Conference USA foes.
It didn’t take long for the first crack is Jones’ foundation to show during his sophomore run with the Packers, as he missed a large chunk of training camp with — you guessed it — a hamstring injury.
Wait and See
With no word yet on the severity of Jones’ injury, Packers’ fans can do little more than speculate about whether they will see the primed-to-succeed running back occupying the backfield at all this preseason.
Consider Thursday’s game against the Texans a wash for Jones and hope that LaFleur and his training staff holding him out is purely a precaution as the first-year head coach indicated last week.
Unlike newcomers who have yet to prove their worth, Jones has already proved to the Packers he has all the tools to thrive when he is healthy, which means they could play it safe and sit him the entire preseason if they think it will help his recovery. No sense in risking a setback when Jones’ true value rests in the regular season.
In the meantime, the opportunity to see serious action falls to others vying for a place on the 53-man roster, such as former Notre Dame standout and rookie Dexter Williams. Fullback Danny Vitale has also generated plenty of buzz throughout training camp, making impressions on coaches and teammates alike.