Packers think Ty Montgomery 'has that ability' to be a No. 1 running back

Mike McCarthy doesn’t look at Ty Montgomery as a receiver anymore. But does the Green Bay Packers coach consider the third-year pro a No. 1 running back after Montgomery made the full-time position switch midway through last season?

“I think Ty definitely has that ability,” McCarthy told reporters at the NFL annual meetings in Phoenix.

Montgomery averaged a remarkable 5.9 yards per carry last regular season, and he rushed for three touchdowns in the regular season and two more in the playoffs.

Still, there’s a big difference between the 77 carries Montgomery had in the regular season and the 239 carries that Eddie Lacy averaged per year over his first three NFL seasons. When Lacy signed with the Seattle Seahawks in free agency earlier this month, it left Montgomery as the Packers’ only running back. Since then, they re-signed Christine Michael to a one-year deal, but it contained almost no guaranteed money (just a $25,000 signing bonus) and his spot on the opening-day roster is far from assured.

This is a key offseason for Montgomery, who last spring spent the majority of his time working with receivers coach Luke Getsy. This offseason, he’ll work almost exclusively with running backs coach Ben Sirmans, who was instrumental in the conversion process for Montgomery last season.

Not only did Montgomery change positions last season, he also dealt with a significant health issue. He missed one full game and was limited in others because of complications from sickle-cell trait. Montgomery carried more than 11 times in a game only once last season and never rushed more than 16. That came in his season-high 162-yard, two-touchdown game at Chicago in Week 15.

“Obviously it’s a very heavy lifting position, so availability will be Ty’s No. 1 statistic,” McCarthy said. “He’s a very talented young man, very bright, obviously understands the whole perimeter part of the offense now, so his utilization and the variation that he gives us as far as alignments and assignments and the different things that he can do will definitely benefit us as far as our offensive scheme. He just needs to have a great offseason ... but this is a big opportunity for him.

Even if Montgomery proves to be a full-time No. 1 back, McCarthy has rarely relied on a workhorse ball carrier, particularly early in the season. He’d rather split carries to keep his backs fresh for the stretch run. Last season, the Packers went into the regular season with only Lacy and James Starks at running back, and injuries to both forced McCarthy into radical changes.

McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson both said this week that they’re far from finished in the running-back-acquisition department, although neither would say whether that would be a veteran such as Adrian Peterson or someone in the draft, or both.

“Well, we’re short; we have two running backs on the roster,” McCarthy said. “I think that’s obvious. We’re going to have more running backs here in a month when we hit the [organized team activities] here in Phase 2, the middle of May after the rookie orientation camp, I think our roster will definitely reflect differently. We have work to do there.”

ESPN's Mike Sando contributed to this report.