With injuries impacting their depth at both running back and defensive tackle, the Green Bay Packers are scouting a pair of potential additions at each spot to help bolster their ranks during training camp.
According to the NFL’s visits and workouts list for Saturday, the Packers recently hosted former New York Giants running back Jon Hilliman along with defensive tackles Josh Avery and Trevon McSwain for roster tryouts. Hilliman and McSwain worked out with the team on Thursday, while Avery’s tryout took place on Saturday.
The Packers also hosted former Monmouth record-setter Pete Guerriero for a visit earlier in the week. The 5-foot-10, 190-pound running back went through 2020 training camp with the New York Jets and spent portions of the season the practice squads of the Jets and Carolina Panthers, impressing with his breakaway speed and 40-meter clocking of 4.49 seconds.
The Packers have one spot available on their 90-man active roster after placing 2020 sixth-round offensive guard Simon Stepaniak on the reserve/retired list on Saturday.
The latest Packers news straight to your inbox! Join the Heavy on Packers newsletter here!
Hilliman Comes With In-Season Experience
The Packers don’t have to worry about the top end of their running back position. Aaron Jones re-signed on a four-year, $48 million extension this past offseason and is poised to form an electric one-two punch with 2020 second-rounder AJ Dillon with Jamaal Williams no longer in the picture. Green Bay also added Mississippi State standout Kylin Hill in the seventh round of the 2021 NFL draft.
Even if the Packers decide three running backs are enough for their active roster this season, though, they will presumably need another body to continue through the rest of camp with Dexter Williams the only other healthy option on the roster. They also have 2020 undrafted free agent Patrick Taylor, but he started camp on the PUP list with a groin injury and has not yet returned to action after a foot injury cost him his entire rookie season as well.
Hilliman could offer a short-term solution for the Packers with the upside of potentially giving them a valuable rusher for their practice squad. While Williams, a 2019 sixth-round pick for Green Bay, might hold the edge over any potential challengers for the RB4 role, he has only rushed two for eight yards in his two seasons versus Hilliman’s 30 carries for 91 yards and six first downs.
Hilliman is also a former Boston College teammate of AJ Dillon, sharing the backfield with him during the 2017 season — when Dillon was a freshman — before graduating and transferring to spend his final year of eligibility at Rutgers. Together, they combined for 2,227 yards and 19 touchdowns for the Eagles’ ground game (with Hilliman’s contributions tapping out at 638 yards and five touchdowns on 167 carries).
The downside to Hilliman is his ball security. He saw three games of action for the Giants during the 2019 season while Saquon Barkley was on the mend, but he fumbled the ball twice during that span with New York failing to recover both times. He also fumbled a handful of times during his time at Boston College.
Could Kingsley Miss Significant Time?
Taylor wasn’t the only Packers player to begin camp with an injury designation. Green Bay is also still practicing without Za’Darius Smith (back), Kevin King (hamstring), Will Redmond (foot), Kingsley Keke (ankle), Dominique Dafney (knee), Isaiah McDuffie (hamstring), Josiah Deguara (ACL recovery) and David Bakhtiari (ACL recovery).
Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst indicated on Tuesday he was not concerned about any of those players facing long-term issues, but their interest in free-agent defensive tackles could suggest Keke — who was starting before a concussion ended his 2020 season prematurely — will take a little time getting back into the fold.
The Packers might also just want reinforcements for a position that has caused them problems in the past. Kenny Clark is installed as their centerpiece nose tackle while Dean Lowry restructured his contract to return for the 2021 season, but the rest of their depth boils down Tyler Lancaster (2018 UDFA), Willington Previlon (2020 UDFA) and rookies TJ Slaton (2021 fifth-round pick), Carlo Kemp and Jack Heflin. Lancaster is the only among them with any live-game experience with 1,004 defensive snaps played over his first three seasons in Green Bay.