GREEN BAY, Wis. – For weeks, fans have been clamoring for rookie running back AJ Dillon to get more opportunities.
With Aaron Jones listed as questionable with a calf injury and perhaps unlikely to play, Dillon – the Green Bay Packers’ burly second-round draft pick – might get a chance to shoulder at least some of the load on Sunday in Houston.
Or, in the case of the legs-like-tree-trunks Dillon, to quad some of the load.
With Jones and Jamaal Williams providing one of the NFL’s best one-two punches in the backfield, opportunities have been fleeting for Dillon. He enters Sunday’s game against the Texans with 13 carries for 65 yards in five games. He had quarters with that much production during his prolific career at Boston College. Dillon had more than 13 carries in 31 of 35 career college games.
Despite the limited background, coach Matt LaFleur on Friday said Dillon “absolutely” is ready to play if needed. While LaFleur would tweak things to take advantage of Dillon’s skill-set, he said the offense wouldn’t be limited with the rookie on the field.
“We’ve got a ton of confidence in his ability to do whatever we’re asking the other two guys to do,” LaFleur said. “Nothing’s changing in terms of the preparation. Whether AJ’s in there, whether Jamaal’s in there, whether Aaron’s in there, it’s the same game plan for them.”
After the Packers raced to a 10-0 lead against Tampa Bay last week, the offense barely made a noteworthy play over the final three quarters. One of those was my Dillon, who had a rumble of 20 yards.
It was a run that showed Dillon’s potential. However, with Jones and Williams in the backfield, quarterback Aaron Rodgers wasn’t in a hurry to get the rookie more meaningful reps.
“We were down by three or four scores,” Rodgers said on Wednesday. “I think he’s definitely progressing and he’s becoming more comfortable and we’re seeing the personality come out, which is important. I think it’s important also to not try and force things. Jamaal and Aaron have been playing so well. I was impressed with what AJ did, but I don’t think at this point we need to force more carries. I just think it was a product of the score last week.”
There might not be any choice now. Jones injured his calf at Thursday’s practice and didn’t practice on Friday. Jones was hopeful he’d be given the green light on Sunday but understood that was out of his hands.
In Dillon’s 13 touches, our unofficial count has Dillon forcing six missed tackles. That’s as many as Williams in 46 touches and exactly half of Jones’ total of 12 in 93 touches.
“Just tell him to continue to prepare,” running backs coach Ben Sirmans said last week. “We always have a plan for him to get out, get in the game. But sometimes certain aspects or certain situations in the games don't call for it. I think Atlanta had one drive where they had close to 20 plays for 10 minutes. Things like that, you don't expect. We always have a plan for him to go in the game because he’s earned the right to play. I just keep encouraging him that, ‘Hey, there could be a game [you] could play five reps. There could be a game [you] could play 50 reps. But you've always got to prepare like you're going to play 50.”
Sunday might be that day.