Motivated AJ Dillon ready to fill whatever role Packers need from him

By: Paul Bretl 6/5/24

As uncertainty surrounded AJ Dillon’s offseason with his future with the Packers up in the air as a pending free agent, Dillon focused on what he could control, and that was putting in the work.

Through the now three OTA practices that have been open to the media, Dillon appears to be a bit slimmer, while still maintaining his muscle mass, and as he put it, is in the best shape of his life.

“I think it was big getting him back,” said running backs coach Ben Sirmans. “I think when you look at the way we played towards the end of the season, I think that’s the guy that you’re going to get – a guy that’s going to play with that type of urgency, that type of attitude and besides that, I’m glad we have him back because he helps Josh out tremendously, especially in learning some of the different things we do within this offense.”

“But it’s been great having him back from that standpoint because now he’s taken hold of being one of the leaders. I said, now you’re one of the older guys on offense, so I think he’s taken hold of that in terms of his leadership and just the way he’s been working. This is as hard as I’ve seen him work in the offseason.”

With Dillon looking a bit leaner, that hopefully allows for more burst from him with the ball in his hands. Although he’s proven to be reliable in really every facet of the game, there has been a lack of playmaking ability when he has the ball.

By Dillon’s own admission, and Sirmans has agreed, there are times when Dillon is overthinking on the field, and rather than reacting to what’s happening and letting his natural abilities take over, he’s pressing, which can slow him down.

Last season, Dillon’s play did improve as the year went on. Through Dillon’s first seven games, he averaged 3.13 yards per rush with only one game where he averaged more than 4.0 yards per attempt. During his final eight games, he averaged 3.73 yards per carry with four games over 4.0 yards per rush.

But, when it was all said and done, he would still average only 3.4 yards per rush attempt. Dillon’s eight carries of 10-plus yards ranked 47th out of 58 eligible running backs. He also ranked 42nd in average yards after contact, which is supposed to be his calling card as a physical back.

“I’ve got a bunch of motivation but it’s all internal,” said Dillon. “I’m in the best shape of my life. I feel good so I’m ready to do whatever it takes. I want to go win a Super Bowl. I’ve been here – this is Year 5 now. We’ve been close. That’s really it. I’m going to go out, work and I’m going to be a dog in whatever capacity on game day. That’s it. Motivation? I’ve got it. Discipline? I’ve got it. I’m here and trying to be great.”

Whoever ends up as the primary second running back behind Josh Jacobs, the Packers need more juice from that position this season. When defenses don’t fear the run game, it drastically changes how they defend the offense. Specifically, it makes moving the ball through the air more challenging and can take away play-action opportunities.

Dillon will be competing with Marshawn Lloyd for that playing time, and the Packers also have Emanuel Wilson as well. From the sounds of it, Lloyd is already going to be a factor in the offense, with offensive coordinator Adam Stenavich recently saying that he “would like to get him out there as much as possible.”

However, even if that’s the case, that doesn’t mean Dillon can’t carve out a role in some capacity, whether that be as a third-down back in to pass protect, a ball carrier in certain situations, or even as an H-back, a role that Sirmans believes Dillon could fill. For what it’s worth at this time of the year, throughout OTAs, Dillon has still seen his fair share of opportunities with the starting offense.

Dillon is back in Green Bay on a one-year deal that comes with only a $167,500 dead cap hit if the Packers were to release him–so he is far from a roster lock. But with that said, there is certainly value in the leadership he brings, his familiarity with the offense, and his reliability as a ball carrier, pass-catcher, and blocker.

A strong offseason can be a catalyst towards improved play during the regular season, and while it’s still early, Dillon appears to be on that path. Some added burst and decisiveness to his already well-rounded skill set could help him level up in 2024.

“I envision going out there and balling out every time I’m on the field,” added Dillon. “Whatever that is, that’s for the coaches to decide. Like I said, I’m putting myself in the best position possible, in great shape, working, trying to lead, trying to cross my T’s and dot my I’s.

“Whether that’s special teams, running back, receiver, tight end, fullback, kicker, quarterback, I’m down to do whatever. I’m happy to be here. Like I said, I’m just going to put my helmet on and go to work.”