Battle for Packers’ No. 3 running back spot going the distance

GREEN BAY – With one preseason game to go, it’s still up for grabs.

No one has seized a firm grip on the Packers’ No. 3 running back jobs yet, so the competition is carrying all the way through Thursday’s preseason finale at Kansas City.

Because 2021 seventh-round draft pick Kylin Hill remains on the physically unable to perform list (PUP) due to last season’s knee injury, it’s been a three-horse race among second-year pro Patrick Taylor, undrafted rookie Tyler Goodson and recent returnee Dexter Williams.

Based on how the practice and game reps have been distributed to this point, Taylor and Goodson appear to be ahead, with Williams – a Packers 2019 sixth-round pick who played elsewhere last season and was re-signed two weeks ago – needing to make up ground.

Here are the stats through two preseason games:

Taylor – 11 carries, 37 yards (long 6)
Goodson – 22 carries, 79 yards (long 15); 3 receptions, 24 yards
Williams – 8 carries, 53 yards (long 25)

And here’s the reality: Those numbers probably won’t mean much when it comes to the final decision.

Head Coach Matt LaFleur has mentioned in recent days that special teams and pass protection will factor heavily into who wins the job, and that isn’t lost on the combatants.

Regarding special teams, they’re getting opportunities in different roles on new coordinator Rich Bisaccia’s units and doing their best to prove reliable, whether as blockers, cover guys or return men.

Taylor, who went undrafted in 2020 out of Memphis and spent his entire rookie year rehabbing a foot injury, got some special-teams experience last season and feels more comfortable in that phase now. He recorded a coverage tackle in the preseason game last week vs. New Orleans. Meanwhile Goodson, undrafted from Iowa, said he always stays within earshot of Bisaccia so he’s in tune with the coach’s demands.

“Just to make sure I know what’s going on and what to do,” Goodson said. “But really it’s all about going in there to try to make a play … or help a teammate make a play, and that’s what it comes down to.”

Helping in pass protection might be even more critical, because if anything were to force Aaron Jones or AJ Dillon to miss time, the substitute will have to be trusted with picking up blitzes to keep Aaron Rodgers upright.

Taylor, at 6-2, 217, has the physical size that makes him the most adept pass blocker, and he’s proven it. He had a textbook blitz pickup in game action against the Saints, allowing QB Jordan Love to rip a downfield throw.

“I was the defensive back for all of college,” Taylor said. “If you’re able to protect the quarterback, you’re definitely reliable for passing downs, and that quarterback wants you on the field because he knows you’re going to keep the pocket clean. So I definitely take pride in that.”

Like all young running backs, Williams put in a lot of time and effort to learn pass protection his first two years with the Packers, and that’s the process Goodson is going through now.

It’s not that rookies don’t know how to do it, but it’s a bigger challenge at the pro level, and not just because the blitzers might be bigger and stronger.

“The difference is guys are a lot smarter,” said Goodson, who’s the smallest and shiftiest of the backs at 5-9, 197. “They know how to attack a blocker or anybody in front of them, because this game is so tedious and everybody looks at little stuff that they might see you have a weakness in, that you might have to improve on.”

In that vein, Goodson is actually hoping the Chiefs bring some pressure packages when he’s in the game Thursday night to get more opportunities to prove himself in defense.

There’s no lack of confidence in any of the reserve backs. Williams (5-11, 212) spent two years here learning LaFleur’s system, and less than two months ago he posted 102 yards from scrimmage (29 rushing, 73 receiving) in the USFL title game for the Philadelphia Stars.

Taylor got his first NFL game action last season after coming back from the long injury layoff, rushing 11 times for 53 yards and his first pro TD in Week 18 at Detroit.

And Goodson really found a groove in the most recent preseason game against the Saints, stringing together rushes of 9, 9 and 15 yards, with a 10-yard reception mixed in, over a span of seven plays during an early scoring drive.

But in all likelihood there’s only one spot on the 53-man roster available for a running back behind Jones and Dillon, and the battle is going all the way to the wire.

“Going into the game, it’s just keep doing what you’ve been doing,” Goodson said, “and let the game come to me.”

Added Taylor: “I can’t control what they decide as far as who makes the roster with the No. 3 spot. My main focus is on myself. High effort, high energy on Thursday, and just leave it out there.”

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