Ivan Fears is still keeping a close eye on the New England Patriots’ running back situation, specifically, he’s watching a forgotten player who’s “looking really good right now.”
Fears, who served as running backs coach from 2002 to ’21, anticipates Ty Montgomery taking on a key role during the 2023 NFL season. Speaking on the 6 Rings and Football Things podcast, Fears tipped Montgomery “to be the third-down back and take some of the load off Rhamondre (Stevenson), so (Rhamondre) can be fresh when we really need him on first and second down carrying the ball as the featured guy. We need some help for Rhamondre, and I think Ty is looking really good right now. He’s healthy.”
Montgomery missed all but one game last season, but the former Green Bay Packers star is versatile enough to make an impact in both phases of the Patriots offense. There’s an opportunity for somebody to become the roving pass-catcher out of the backfield head coach Bill Belichick has traditionally made a staple of his system.
Well-Travelled Veteran Can Revive Career in New Offense
Stints with the Packers, Baltimore Ravens and New Orleans Saints allowed Montogomery to showcase his wares as a wide receiver, running back and returner. Those skills appealed to the Patriots, but the 30-year-old struggled to get on the field while dealing with a shoulder problem that eventually required season-ending surgery.
If Montgomery is as fresh as Fears says, it’s a timely return to health now Bill O’Brien is back calling the plays. O’Brien’s second spell as the Pats’ offensive coordinator is likely to see a lot of empty formations, according to NFL Films senior producer Greg Cosell.
Speaking to the Inside The Birds podcast, Cosell noted how “O’Brien has always been a big believer in empty fomations.” It’s something Cosell thinks will allow quarterback Mac Jones “to see what the defense is doing pre-snap.”
Another thing empty formations can do is let the Patriots take full advantage of a player with Montgomery’s move skills. The latter’s experience as a wideout means he can line up anywhere and be flexed from the backfield to either align in the slot or split out toward the sideline.
Moving Montgomery around would essentially let the Patriots create an empty set any time they want. He can also still make plays as a pass-catcher out of the backfield, the way he did for this touchdown against AFC East rivals the Miami Dolphins in Week 1.
This is how Belichick has used multiple running backs during his tenure with the Patriots, including Kevin Faulk, Shane Vereen and James White. The trend has been bucked in recent seasons, but rumors the Pats wanted to draft Jahmyr Gibbs, a back noted as much for his work as a receiver as his ability running the ball, suggests Belichick wants to revive this schematic staple.
Montgomery can help, provided he stays healthy and fends off competition this offseason.
Forgotten Man Must Prove Himself Amid Crowded Depth Chart
Rhamondre Stevenson will continue as the lead workhorse after rushing for 1,040 yards last season, but the picture behind No. 38 is less clear. James Robinson arrived in free agency, while J.J. Taylor and Pierre Strong Jr. remain in the mix.
Robinson has the experience and flexibility to ease Stevenson’s workload. The 24-year-old’s rushed 514 times and caught 91 passes during a four-year career that’s taken in stints with the Jacksonville Jaguars and New York Jets.
Ideally, Belichick and O’Brien will be able to rely on both Robinson and Montgomery as a two-pronged alternative to Stevenson. The triple-headed committee should keep defenses guessing.
An element of mystery is another reason why Fears is right to tout Montgomery’s fit for third-down work. This nifty inside run against the Carolina Panthers last preseason, highlighted by WBUR producer Khari Thompson, showcased the quickness and low centre of gravity Montgomery can use to surprise defenses playing pass on football’s money down.
An endorsement from an assistant with Fears’ track record sets lofty expectations for Montgomery. Fortunately, he has the right range of skills in the right offense to meet them.