Adams' talents could warrant playing time
Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson knows how to draft wide receivers.
Six of his 11 receiver picks from 2005-'13 have started at least a game for the Packers or some other NFL team, and four of them—Greg Jennings, James Jones, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb—have combined to catch 137 of Aaron Rodgers' 206 career touchdown passes since the quarterback became a starter in '08.
Davante Adams might be the next big strike Thompson makes, but instant gratification has not been the norm around here for wide receivers. And the 2014 second-round pick has quickly learned why. There is no easy way around the process of learning coach Mike McCarthy's offense and gaining Rodgers' trust.
“If you see our playbook they've got a lot to learn,” backup quarterback Matt Flynn said. “We put a lot on the receivers because if you look at the last six years since Aaron has been starting how much this offense has evolved, he's played with a certain group of receivers.
“They've all been comfortable (with each other), so they put more and more on the receivers and quarterback. As a rookie, you have a big learning curve to catch up on.”
It certainly explains why Adams, who caught 233 passes and scored 38 touchdowns in two seasons at Fresno State, was barely noticeable the first week of camp. It was the second-year guys like Myles White and Kevin Dorsey, who led a pack of young receivers vying for two or three spots on the 53-man roster.
The 6-foot-1, 215-pound Adams' size and quickness off the line of scrimmage were evident, but the production wasn't. There weren't any signs that he would be able to help the Packers much this season.
Then, late in the week and into the Saturday night practice at Lambeau Field, Adams started to show up. He caught a touchdown pass from Rodgers on a fade route and made a diving catch near the sideline on a throw from Flynn.
On Monday night, Adams was on the receiving end of a laser from Rodgers in the back of the end zone after making a series of tight cuts.
“Just overall getting the concepts (down),” Adams said of what slowed him initially. “Everything's starting to click a little bit more. When you start getting a little more confident in the playbook, you can think a little bit less and just play. That's definitely been the point of emphasis for me.”
Nelson remembers his first year in camp. The transition to the system wasn't as great as the one Adams is making from a spread offense at Fresno State, but Nelson had only been a receiver for three years at Kansas State and was still learning the position.
He knew the playbook and the routes, but getting Rodgers to throw him the ball wasn't easy with Donald Driver, Greg Jennings and Jones well established. In his first year as a starter, Rodgers wasn't going to throw to some rookie he wasn't sure would run his route at the right depth or read the defense the way he did.
Adams is fighting the same thing.
“A lot of it's getting on the same page as Aaron and knowing checks,” Nelson said. “We have multiple hand signals for each play and you have to be able to handle all of those and allow him to have confidence in you.”
At Fresno State, Adams caught a lot of short passes and was counted on to get yards after the catch. Sometimes quarterback Derek Carr just lobbed him the ball on fade routes and let him use his big body and strong hands to win the play.
With the Packers, the plays require the receivers to react based on the coverage they're seeing. There are lots of routes that if not run precisely will allow defenders to make a play on the ball that they normally shouldn't.
Adams seems to be handling the precision part just fine. It's seeing things exactly the way Rodgers does that is slow to come. On one route Saturday night, Flynn threw to a spot where he thought Adams would be but wasn't.
“I think he's got a knack for running routes and knowing the leverage of DBs,” Flynn said. “He does a really good job with his offensive routes. They're very clean.
“He's got some work to do on the mental part when to convert routes, when to make adjustments and things like that. Physically, he's got all the skills you need to be a really good receiver.”
Jennings probably adapted the quickest of all Thompson's receiver picks because his route running was so good right away. Jones, however, had the most rookie catches of any of the others, hauling in 47 from Brett Favre.
The Packers don't need necessarily need Adams to put up those kinds of numbers, but with Jarrett Boykin a bit inconsistent the first two weeks of camp, there's an opportunity for the rookie to jump into the No. 3 spot behind Nelson and Cobb at some point this season.
“To tell you the truth, he plays like he's a 'year two' or 'year three' guy,” cornerback Davon House said. Every time I go up against him that's what I try to do, be physical with him. But he's so quick and explosive, it's hard.”
Adams isn't the only rookie trying to make the adjustment to the Packers offense. Fifth-round pick Jared Abbrederis was working at it until he tore the ACL in his right knee. Seventh-round pick Jeff Janis participated in his first practice Wednesday because of a case of shingles that hads limited him to just brief work.
It's unlikely Adams will see more than a play or two with Rodgers in the Tennessee game Saturday night unless McCarthy decides to sit Nelson or Cobb to avoid injury. But Adams will get a lot of playing time with Flynn, who will also have White and Dorsey fighting to get his attention.