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Ty Montgomery Proving to Be Versatile Chess Piece for Bill O’Brien

The Patriots and Ty Montgomery seemed like a perfect fit when the receiver-running back hybrid was signed last season. But after catching the offense’s first touchdown as the primary 3rd-down back, he suffered an ACL injury late in the season opener and missed the rest of 2022.

Under new offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien, Montgomery’s roster designation changed from running back to wide receiver, which was reflected early in the team’s off-season program. Though he continued to get reps in the backfield, Montgomery went through individual drills with wideouts and was the top slot option in three-receiver sets during mini-camp and OTAs. This was partially a response to JuJu Smith-Schuster missing time while nursing a knee injury, but Montgomery continued repping with wideouts when the former Chief returned for training camp.

Montgomery’s versatility popped quickly with four touchdowns from different alignments on the first day of camp, showing he was more of an offensive weapon than a player of any one position. Unfortunately, he suffered another injury after colliding with Terez Hall a day later and missed most of the summer. Montgomery returned to practice ahead of the team’s preseason finale in Tennessee but, like other virtual locks to make the team didn’t dress against the Titans.

Montgomery didn’t make it through initial roster cuts, seemingly because of the team’s glaring need for offensive tackle depth, but he signed to the practice squad and was quickly elevated to the 53 once players were placed on short-term injured reserve.

Bill Belichick acknowledged the value of having a player with Montgomery’s well-rounded skill set while speaking to reporters on Friday.

Rhamondre Stevenson echoed these sentiments, saying “The more you can do, the better off you’ll be, especially up here in New England. Just [Ty] being that Swiss Army knife is great for the offense as a whole.”

Though he only played seven offensive snaps against the Eagles in Week 1, we got a snapshot of O’Brien’s plans for the chess piece and his ability to contribute both with and without the ball in his hands. Here are each of the groupings Montgomery was featured in (where I considered him a wide receiver) and a breakdown of each play.

03 Personnel (0 RB, 3 TE, 2 WR)

In the 1st quarter, O’Brien ran back-to-back plays from a 3-tight-end package with Mac Jones in shotgun, featuring:

RB – Ty Montgomery

X (on-ball receiver) – Demario Douglas

Z (off-ball receiver) – Mike Gesicki

TEs – Hunter Henry, Pharaoh Brown

Despite New England’s heavier personnel signaling run, the Eagles answered with a three-corner nickel defense. This hunch proved to be the right move initially, as the Patriots emptied out the backfield on their first play.

The Patriots put all three tight ends to the same side, which the Eagles designate the passing strength of their zone coverage by putting cornerback Avonte Maddox over Hunter Henry. But with Montgomery flexing from the backfield to the boundary, James Bradberry has to cover him instead of Demario Douglas in the weak slot. Philly’s split-safety look shifts to a single-high zone with a linebacker and safety essentially bracketing the wide receiver. This draws coverage away from the middle, where Jones spots Henry on his second read and puts it up for his big tight end, who makes a fantastic grab in traffic.

After converting 2nd & 8, the Patriots seized the momentum and went no-huddle, putting Montgomery beside the quarterback with each tight end close to the formation and Douglas outside the numbers backside.

New England hands off against Philly’s two high shell on same-side duo, which looks like a zone concept designed for the runner to cutback inside, but is actually a gap concept aimed at hitting downhill or bouncing outside. The Patriots get great movement on their double teams, with Pharaoh Brown caving in the right side before climbing to a linebacker and Mike Gesicki taking out Maddox to clear space for Montgomery.

This package disappeared for the rest of the game, possibly due to the offense digging itself an early hole, but don’t be surprised if it appears more often after consecutive positive plays.

11 Personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR)

Most of Montgomery’s offensive reps featured Jones in the gun with:

RB – Rhamondre Stevenson

X – Kayshon Boutte

Z – Demario Douglas (one snap of Kendrick Bourne)

H (chess piece) – Ty Montgomery

TE – Mike Gesicki (slot)/Hunter Henry (in-line)

Again the Eagles countered with their nickel defense, treating Montgomery as a wide receiver. They guessed right, as he primarily created opportunities for others from the slot, but O’Brien also gave Montgomery his chance to shine.

This package’s first three plays came on consecutive 2nd quarter snaps and sparked New England’s first scoring drive. After the offense’s first 3rd down conversion of the game, where O’Brien used a bunch formation to get Smith-Schuster wide open against Darius Slay, they came out in the same look but with a different grouping.

The Patriots use another bunch to attack Philly’s coverage rules, stemming Montgomery and Douglas toward Maddox to create conflict. Montgomery takes off to clear deep coverage and Maddox squeezes his route, allowing Douglas to sneak into the defender’s blindspot and create early separation on a corner route. Jones delivers a perfect pass and the rookie receiver hauls it in to set up a Red Zone drive.

New England picked up the pace to capitalize on the big play, this time splitting Stevenson out wide to create another empty look, but with Montgomery inside as the #3 receiver. The Eagles responded with single-high zone, this time putting Maddox in the weak slot over Douglas with safety Justin Evans in the strong slot across from Mike Gesicki. By keeping their corners outside in deep 1/3s, Bradberry ends up covering the back with two linebackers mismatched against Montgomery inside.

Jones’ eyes draw in both linebackers, but Montgomery breaks outside where Gesicki has cleared out coverage. Jones exploits the mismatch and Montgomery picks up a second consecutive first down.

On the next play, Gesicki swapped out for in-line tight end Hunter Henry with Stevenson as the offset back. Philly stayed in nickel but turned up the heat with a linebacker blitz from single-high man.

Before the snap, Stevenson shifts over to the tight end’s side, hinting at an RPO. To the pass side, Montgomery lines up as the #2 receiver and blocks with Boutte on a Douglas bubble screen.  Jones decides to hand off on another same-side duo concept, where Stevenson would be responsible for making Bradberry miss in the box, but defensive tackle Milton Williams quickly beats Trent Brown for a stop. One play later, Henry scored on a perfectly placed seam throw from a two-tight-end set.

O’Brien would dust the package off early in the 4th quarter with New England down eight points. This time Kendrick Bourne was outside at Z for Douglas and Henry aligned toward the pass strength with Montgomery in the slot.

Montgomery takes off deep with each outside receiver running deep curls, but Jones either throws the ball away or is on different pages with his target, so his deep pass lands incomplete.

01 Personnel (0 RB, 1 TE, 4 WR)

The most pass-oriented of Montgomery’s packages, the Patriots featured one snap of a lighter grouping with:

RB – Ty Montgomery

X – Kayshon Boutte

Z – Kendrick Bourne

Slot – Demario Douglas

Tight End – Mike Gesicki

The Eagles countered with a single-high zone from another nickel defense.

New England motions Douglas across the formation to simulate a bubble screen before hitting Montgomery on a swing screen. Montgomery couldn’t do much due to the pass being behind him and two blockers missing their assignment, but it was an interesting design.

Conclusion

When I asked Montgomery what it takes to succeed in O’Brien’s system, he responded “A posture of humility. A willingness to play your role and do your job.”

The Patriots’ offense may not be stocked with household names, but O’Brien’s ability to maximize his personnel, mix-and-match groupings, and manipulate defenses make them better than the sum of their parts. Montgomery making a palpable impact in a selfless role was a great example of this, and his growth in New England’s system should be fun to follow.

Taylor Kyles

Taylor Kyles is the lead NFL Analyst for CLNS Media covering players, schemes, and tendencies through a New England Patriots-centric lens.

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