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Whatever his nickname — ‘The Quadfather,’ ‘Quadzilla’ — AJ Dillon’s legs should add power to Packers’ run game
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Whatever his nickname — ‘The Quadfather,’ ‘Quadzilla’ — AJ Dillon’s legs should add power to Packers’ run game

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dillon photo 6-6

A.J. Dillon (28) played in 11 games and averaged 5.3 yards per carry as a rookie. He missed five games after contracting COVID-19.

GREEN BAY — If AJ Dillon elevates his game as much as he did his marketing this offseason, then the Green Bay Packers are going to be very, very happy with their second-year running back taking on an expanded role in their offense.

Dillon, you might remember, drew lots of attention as a second-round pick last year because of his massive, muscular legs. Unfortunately for him, with the exception of an extraordinary performance against the Tennessee Titans late in the season, there wasn’t much else noteworthy about his rookie campaign.

A quick scroll of Dillon’s Twitter page shows that he has his own website, apparently signed an advertising deal with Mott’s Applesauce (his nickname is “The Sauce”), appears to be making himself available for kids birthday parties, can use his legs like a vise to crush watermelons, and is selling T-shirts and other merchandise emblazoned with his new leg-inspired moniker, “Quadzilla.”

Or would that be “The Quadfather,” AJ?

“I did a little poll on Twitter, and it was like 51-49 for ‘Quadzilla,’” Dillon said — in a Zoom session with reporters while he was wearing a ‘Quadzilla’ hoodie — last week during organized team activity practices, which give way this week to the team’s mandatory three-day minicamp. “Somebody brought up the idea of one leg being ‘Quadzilla,’ the other one being ‘Quadfather,’ so I’m going to roll with that. Either name is applicable and I’m fine with that. I’ll definitely respond to it.”

One point of clarification, though.

“I would like to put it on record I didn’t come up with the names. Fans came up with both of those names,” Dillon said. “I’ve definitely grown to love ‘em a lot. If something I think is fun, I always like to interact with fans whether it’s on social media or if I can, see somebody in the community. It’s really cool to see the Green Bay fans gather around that … a really cool feeling to feel like they’re really excited for what I can do for the team.”

Fans aren’t the only ones excited about him. With veteran No. 2 running back Jamaal Williams having departed for the Detroit Lions in free agency, Dillon is in line to share the backfield workload with two-time 1,000-yard rusher Aaron Jones, who returned on a four-year, $48 million deal after gauging interest on the free-agent market.

Using Dillon more is something coach Matt LaFleur is eager to do. Although he gave Dillon a hard time about the watermelon-crushing video after the team spent part of its first in-person meeting of OTAs trying unsuccessfully to mimic Dillon’s leg-pressed fruit salad — “I’m skeptical about whether those watermelons (that Dillon crushed) were pre-sliced or not,” LaFleur joked — the coach is looking forward to getting Dillon the ball more.

In fact, while waiting for his turn to do a Zoom meeting with reporters last week, LaFleur overheard one question in which Dillon was asked about how infrequently he got the ball as a rookie.

“I heard you guys’ question to him about not getting the ball last year, and I thought he was going to come after me a little bit — because he was certainly deserving (of more touches),” said LaFleur, who also serves as the offensive play-caller. “I will say, it’s hard at times to get three (players), who I deem starting backs, the football. There’s just not enough carries to go around.”

The greater issue for Dillon last season, though, was the process of learning the offensive playbook as a rookie with no on-field offseason work and a truncated training camp, both of which were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Then, the pandemic hit Dillon on a more personal level, as he contracted the virus, had a positive test come back after he played in the team’s Nov. 1 loss to Minnesota, and missed the next five games. He said after he returned to action that the virus made him quite sick and that he underestimated the severity of getting it.

As a result, Dillon finished the regular season having carried only 46 times for 242 yards (5.3-yard average) and two touchdowns, playing only 97 snaps (just 9.34% of the Packers’ offensive plays on the season).

But, he did outduel Titans 2,000-yard rusher Derrick Henry in a Dec. 27 matchup at Lambeau Field, carrying 21 times for 124 yards and both of his TDs in the Packers’ 40-14 victory.

“The Tennessee game, definitely I look back on as I’m preparing for this (season) as a big confidence boost,” Dillon said. “Now, going into Year 2, second year in the offense, knowing a little bit more and hopefully expanding my role, I definitely know what I can contribute and build on top of that — and have more games like that Tennessee game.”

Both Jones and running backs coach Ben Sirmans have seen Dillon show a much greater grasp of the system — “You can see he’s a lot more comfortable,” Jones said, “and I’m excited to suit up with him” — and that understanding should take Dillon even farther than his internet-famous legs will take him.

“He’s a lot more familiar with the offense, and definitely more familiar with his surroundings, both physically and mentally. And he also sees the opportunity that he has in front of him,” Sirmans said. “I think a lot of times, that’s enough to really add an extra spark to a guy and how he goes about his business. He’s really excited about the opportunity, and I think that’s the biggest thing that I see with him — that he knows that we’re going to lean on him a lot more this year than we did last year.

“It’s extremely important for him to want to feel like he’s an asset for this team. I think that’s why you see just the jump and the energy that he’s giving out there, the excitement that he has, the eagerness to get out there, play and produce.”

Photos: Packers' 2020 season in pictures

Check out photo galleries from every game of 2020 through the end of the regular season and the playoffs.

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