The Green Bay Packers relied heavily on the backfield to pick up the offensive slack last year, which figures to be even more necessary in 2023.
To that end, Packers running backs coach Ben Sirmans said Thursday, May 19, that backup A.J. Dillon needs to work on being more aggressive from the jump this season rather than ramping up slowly as the campaign progresses.
“There’s been games when [Dillon has] started off the season pretty strong. But there was a point … I thought he could’ve been playing at a more aggressive level,” Sirmans told reporters, per Nick Shook of Around The NFL. “And then we talked about it, watched the tape, he saw what I was referring to and then he applied what we talked about to moving on.”
Sirmans added that a more aggressive mindset will be a focal point of Dillon’s offseason training from a coaching perspective.
“It’s gotta be right from the start. ‘Hey, we know the things that we like that you did last year and when you played this way you [were] very effective, but when you [played] this way, you weren’t,'” Sirmans continued. “There will be more of an emphasis on how we need to start.”
Packers Looking for Breakout Season From A.J. Dillon in 2023
Dillon was poised for a breakout campaign in 2023 after it seemed a good bet that Green Bay would part ways with Aaron Jones, who carried one of the most prohibitive running back contracts in the NFL. Instead, Jones agreed to a $5 million pay cut and will stick around for the foreseeable future, but that hasn’t changed the Packers’ expectations for Dillon.
The 2020 second-round pick out of Boston College is entering his fourth professional season, the final of his $5.3 million rookie contract, after which he will become a free agent. Dillon has been a solid complement to Jones, playing the role of bruiser in short-yardage and goal line situations.
As a result, Dillon has amassed 14 rushing touchdowns over his first three professional seasons, including 12 over the past two years. He has rushed for 1,815 yards and boasts a career average of 4.3 yards per carry, according to Pro Football Reference. His workload on the ground has been limited to 187 carries and 186 carries over the last two years, respectively, as Jones as commanded the bulk of the action.
Jordan Love Era in Green Bay Will Demand More From A.J. Dillon
Dillon has also caught 64 passes for 540 yards and two scores over three years with Aaron Rodgers as his starting quarterback. But now Rodgers’ time in Green Bay is over, and the Jordan Love era has begun.
The Packers struggled mightily at times to move the football with the two-time reigning MVP under center. The wide receiving corps is more experienced in 2023, but not by much, and Love figures to struggle plenty himself as he gets his first opportunity to start during his fourth season in the league.
Rodgers predicted before the 2022 campaign that Jones and Dillon might each make 50 receptions on the year. As it turns out, Jones caught 59 passes and Dillon hauled in 28. The two backs are likely to threaten, if not surpass, their combined total of 87 receptions last season as Love works through the growing pains this year.
A successful running game will also be crucial, not only to the Packers’ season but also to the value of Dillon’s second NFL contract.