Terdell Middleton holds the Green Bay Packers’ record with 39 rushing attempts in a single game.
Middleton did that on Nov. 26, 1978, and after tallying just 110 rushing yards, it was a borderline miracle he could walk to the bus.
Don’t expect A.J. Dillon to break Middleton’s record Sunday, when Green Bay travels to Minnesota. But with the Packers missing Aaron Jones (MCL tear), expect Green Bay’s ground attack to feature Dillon, Dillon and more Dillon.
“Well, if you ask him, which I have, he feels like he can carry the ball 35 times if he had to,” Packers running backs coach Ben Sirmans said. “You probably wouldn’t want him to carry any more than like the mid-20s, I think that’s still a lot for any running back in the NFL, but it’s one of those deals that we’ll see. We’ll see how the game goes, see how much he can handle, and who knows.”
Dillon, a 6-foot-1, 247-pound battering ram, gives as much as he gets. The Packers used a second-round draft pick on Dillon in 2020 expecting him to become their bellcow at some point. That time will be Sunday, when the Packers figure to lean on Dillon like never before.
“He is so much more, I would say detailed,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said. “But I think that goes for many players that are young guys. I’m just really happy to see his progression.
“I think he is so multi-dimensional as a halfback. I think he’s done a much better job of learning how to run in his league, in terms of running behind his pads, lowering his pad level, really delivering the boom.”
Dillon had just 46 carries during a quiet rookie season.
He did show flashes of greatness, though, when Green Bay defeated Tennessee, 40-14, in Week 16. With the Packers shorthanded at running back that night, Dillon carried 21 times for 124 yards and two touchdowns and outperformed the man he’s most often compared to — Derrick Henry.
“That was an amazing opportunity for me to be able to play that much in that game and show everybody what I can do,” Dillon said.
Dillon has averaged 9.7 carries per game this season while splitting carries with Jones. When Jones was injured last week, though, Dillon matched his career-high with 21 carries and tallied his first two rushing scores of the season.
With undrafted Patrick Taylor the only other back on the roster, it figures to be the Dillon Show on Sunday.
“Everybody’s always trained to prepare, at any given moment your number can be called,” Dillon said. “But I also am prepared to and preparing myself mentally to just understand that I’m gonna be the first back out there, to make sure that I’m extra on top of everything. It’s not a what-if situation, it is “it is” a situation where I am there, so just kind of re-going over my things, but not doing anything extra.”
Green Bay general manager Brian Gutekunst took a lot of heat after selecting Dillon with the 62nd overall pick in the 2020 draft. Packer Nation screamed that Green Bay needed a wide receiver or defensive help far more than a running back.
In many ways, the critics had a point considering the Packers already had a nifty 1-2 punch of Jones and Jamaal Williams. But Gutekunst knew both of those players were set to become free agents in March, 2021, and he also felt Dillon was the type of talent he couldn’t bypass.
Dillon set school records with 4,382 yards and 38 touchdowns in three seasons at Boston College. Dillon eclipsed 1,000 yards rushing each season, highlighted by a 2019 campaign in which he ran for 1,685 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Dillon then shocked people by running the 40-yard dash in 4.53 seconds and did 23 reps of 225 pounds.
“What people don’t realize is the athleticism that he has,” Gutekunst said the night he selected Dillon. “He’s just really an all-around back that can do a lot of things. I think he’s obviously built to last.”
The Packers will find out Sunday.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers hasn’t practiced this week due to a toe injury. Green Bay’s passing game has struggled throughout the season. And instead of two running backs to lean on, LaFleur now just has one.
So the offense could be Dillon-centric, which the Packers are completely fine with.
“You hate to say the sky’s the limit and put that type of pressure on a guy, but I definitely think he’s got the ability to be one of the better backs in this league,” Sirmans said of Dillon. “If that arrow just keeps pointing in the right direction.
“For a guy his size that can make the cuts he can make, he’s a lot faster than what people think, and then when he drops his pads he can move people. He’s got good hands. When you combine all those different traits, usually that leads to a guy that’s going to be very productive down the road.”
And perhaps on Sunday.
The Packers are banking on it.
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