Bar remains high for Green Bay Packers receivers
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
GREEN BAY--This will be Edgar Bennett’s fourth year coaching the wide receivers in Green Bay.
In 2011, his group ranked No. 1 in yards (3,667) and touchdowns (38). The 38 touchdowns rank second all-time in NFL history. All five wideouts had 25 receptions for the first time in Packers history.
In 2012, Randall Cobb broke out. In 2013, sans Aaron Rodgers half the season, Jordy Nelson notched a career-high 1,314 yards.
So when has this group—a self-sustaining ecosystem—been at its absolute best?
“To be determined,” Bennett said. “To be determined. Our mind-set, philosophy is to always improve day in and day out. I know it’s a cliché, but it’s the truth.
“Mind-set, we want to be able to do our job at a high level. Those are our goals. Those are our standards. When guys come into that room—and the guys in that room—understand that. That’s a big part of being here in Green Bay and playing the position that they play. A lot is asked and that comes with the territory.”
This summer, Bennett oversees a group in transition. The challenge is keeping the bar set high.
Of that record-setting 2011 group that graced the cover of Sports Illustrated, only Nelson and Cobb remain—and Cobb was a fifth option. Both enter contract years. The Packers drafted three wide receivers last month, the most ever under Ted Thompson. The NFL future of Jermichael Finley, a wide receiver half the time, remains in limbo.
Out is James Jones, in is Jarrett Boykin.
Next to quarterback, arguably no position is valued more on the Packers’ roster. Again, talent is replenished … and the Packers’ expectations can’t change.
“It needs to be explained—the expectations,” Bennett said. “You walk them through it. You’re trying to take the gray out of it. Here are the expectations, here is our standard and how we practice, how we prepare.”
Long-term decisions loom in the room. Nelson and Cobb are on the verge of multimillion-dollar contracts. Somewhere. Green Bay could probably carve out enough room for both. If Cobb is the younger option, Nelson is the more proven.
Along the boundary, he’s been a trapeze artist. In the slot, he replaced an injured Cobb. Of course, Nelson also just turned 29. During last Thursday’s practice, the 6-foot-3, 217-pounder picked up where he left off with a dazzling outstretched grab on a slant.
After a banner 2013 season, Bennett believes Nelson can reach another level.
“Absolutely, absolutely,” Bennett said. “Continue to be the leader he is, No. 1. And that’s been outstanding in the classroom as well as out on the field. He leads by example, but he’s also a vocal leader. When something needs to be said, he’ll say it. When we turn our tape on, it’s a clear illustration of how it’s supposed to look. The right way.”
Cobb says he is back to 100 percent after missing 10 games last season. Suddenly, he’s the second-most experienced receiver on the roster.
“That’s part of the business,” Cobb said. “It’s a revolving door and you know you’ve got to take on a new challenge every year. We’ve got a challenge in bringing in these new guys and getting them up to speed. I’m trying to help them as much as I can.”
The team did get an extended look at Boykin last season. As a route runner, he knotted Brandon Carr and others into no man’s land. Now he’ll likely get the first shot at being the No. 3.
Without Jones, there is a distinct leadership void. Bennett says he’s counting on both Nelson and Cobb “even taking more of a role” in this department.
And at some point, it’s a virtual guarantee the Packers will rely on youth. They use three- and four-receiver sets often. They’ve seen the position ripped by key injuries each of the last two seasons. At some point—maybe even Game 1 at Seattle—Davante Adams will be needed.
Or fifth-round pick Jared Abbrederis. Or seventh-rounder Jeff Janis. Or one of the raw second-year returnees Myles White, Chris Harper and Kevin Dorsey.
For all of their success, Greg Jennings (45 receptions for 632 yards and three touchdowns), James Jones (47-672-2), Jordy Nelson (33-366-2) and Randall Cobb (25-375-1) did not take the league by storm in Year 1.
The NFL rookie receiver faces an uphill climb mentally. Bennett has an idea why.
“A lot of information. A lot to learn,” Bennett said. “Obviously the scheme, the concepts that go along with that, the fundamentals and techniques. And also, having a clear understanding of what the defense is doing. You’ve got to understand coverage.
“ … And then it’s the chemistry. Certainly, the caliber of Aaron Rodgers—one of the best to ever play the game. There’s chemistry involved in that and that’s why it’s so important to make the most of your opportunities in practice.”
Taking part in the NFLPA Rookie Premiere, Adams missed practice last week. These pad-less sessions might be more important to him than anyone else.
His position has changed drastically the last decade, becoming more and more dependent on option routes and on-the-fly adjustments. Bennett won’t talk details. In Green Bay, he does say all receivers must understand full offensive concepts.
Think of an offensive play as a grid, as architecture. Every route affects the other.
“We have multiple concepts,” Bennett said. “When players learn our scheme, it’s to learn concepts. So it’s not just you’re playing this position or you’re playing that position. You need to have a good understanding of what the concept is, so now we can move you around.
“That’s a big part of it. It’s a lot of information, a lot of adjustments. And guys have to put the time in.”
Thus, a major part of this is earning trust from Rodgers. One mental error can lead to a pick-six.
Rodgers said he expects some “strong consideration about keeping an extra guy” at wide receiver in 2014. The group is crowded, yes. But it’s crowded with youth. The average age of Green Bay’s wide receivers is 23.7 years. Compare that to Detroit (25), Chicago (26.3) and Minnesota (24.6).
Names change, the message can’t.
Bennett talks to each player individually about what’s expected. Beyond this are group conversations. No, this isn’t quite wholesale spring cleaning. But a premium position in Green Bay is transitioning.
“They understand what it takes to do their job,” Bennett said, “and that’s really the bottom line.”