The tale of the 2022 Green Bay Packers was complicated, but a simple summary will do: They didn't get into a rhythm until it was too late.
The same could be said for running back AJ Dillon, except he never truly got going at all. Dillon's high-water mark for yards in a single game was 93 in 2022, reached in a Week 13 win over the Bears in which he averaged more than five yards per carry and scored one rushing touchdown.
By season's end, Dillon finished with 770 yards and seven touchdowns on 186 carries, good for a 4.14 yards-per-carry average. Those are respectable numbers for a secondary option in the backfield, but as the Packers turn the page toward a new chapter with youngster Jordan Love at quarterback, they'll need more from their rushing attack in order to take some of the pressure off their signal-caller and field a competitive squad.
That means Dillon will need to be more effective, especially early in the season.
"I think that's something that we talked about, and you bring up just a good point," running backs coach Ben Sirmans told reporters Thursday. "And there's been games when he's started off the season pretty strong, but there was a point, we talked about it, where it was last year, I thought he could've been playing at a more aggressive level. And then we talked about it, watched the tape, he saw what I was referring to and then he applied what we talked about to moving on.
"And understanding that, it's gotta be right from the start. Hey, we know the things that we like that you did last year and when you played this way you are very effective, but when you play this way, you weren't. So, we need to start off this way. So, there will be more of an emphasis on how we need to start."
Dillon has been a solid power back in Green Bay's offense, but hasn't racked up the type of numbers that would vault him into the upper tiers of runners in the NFL. He owns a 4.3 yards-per-carry average in his career and has reached the end zone 14 times -- including a career-high seven times last season -- as a hulking complement to Aaron Jones. Still, through this point in his career, he's been a quality player with breakout potential, but with just one 100-yard game under his belt in his three NFL seasons -- a 21-carry, 124-yard, two-touchdown romp in a blowout win over the Titans in 2020 -- he has yet to legitimately elevate himself.
Such a description might read as criticism, but it's not intended as such. It's just an acknowledgement of reality, with which the Packers agree, and are using as a challenge to Dillon.
"This wasn't the type of year and expectations that, not only he had for himself but from what I had for him and what others in this building had for him," Sirmans said. "I think that he's the type of person, at least from what he's shown me, that he's going to respond to that challenge and come out and have a much more productive year. And you saw a lot of great things in spurts, but that was just the problem, it was just in spurts. It wasn't consistent, and that's what our goal is."
It's tough to produce consistently when filling a role behind Jones, and especially in an offense that lacked an explosive element in 2022 because of a lack of familiarity between Aaron Rodgers and a young receiving corps. With Rodgers gone, the challenge to produce in the passing game only increases, which adds importance to Green Bay's rushing attack.
Dillon can play a significant role in helping the Packers improve offensively in 2023. Logically, that would require more carries than the 10.9 rushing attempts he received per game in 2022. That number won't matter, though, if Dillon maximizes his touches, which would not only benefit him, but also the entire Packers offense.
For now, it's a challenge presented to a player who carved out a path from Boston College to the NFL on effort. Asking him to do more should be a welcome request. But only time will tell whether Dillon rises to the occasion.