Packers WR Nelson comfortable outside spotlight
Packers coach Mike McCarthy likes the way the third-year player elevated his game from the spring through training camp.
Nelson is known for his laid-back personality. While Chad Ochocinco tweets and Terrell Owens seeks the spotlight, Nelson said he's the kind of person who prefers working on his family's farm in Kansas.
His teammates are learning to appreciate his down-home roots. Nelson invited his fellow receivers to Kansas during the offseason for a fun-filled trip.
"I showed them the real life on the farm and everything," Nelson said. "We didn't do much work – more play. They didn't know people could live out in the middle of nowhere. But we had a good time."
The Packers like what they have seen from the 2008 second-round pick in camp. After two years of flashing his ability – he had 33 catches for 366 yards and two touchdowns as a rookie and 22 catches for 320 yards and two TDs last season – he seems to have outplayed James Jones for the No. 3 job, so far.
"I really like the way Jordy's game has elevated throughout the spring and continued here through training camp," McCarthy said this week, as his team prepared for Saturday night's preseason opener against the Cleveland Browns at Lambeau Field.
Virtually every day, Nelson has made an attention-grabbing catch. On Saturday night during the team's annual Family Night Scrimmage, he hauled in a 27-yard completion from Aaron Rodgers on a seam route and held on despite absorbing a wicked hit from safety Charlie Peprah.
He left the scrimmage with a bruised side, but he was right back on the field when the team returned to work on Monday. Nelson made an incredible catch on a deep ball from Rodgers along the right sideline for a 50-yard gain against Brandon Underwood and Charles Woodson.
Later, during the 2-minute drill, he added a sliding catch on the right sideline before scrambling out of bounds, then a catch on a crossing route where he showed some speed by running away from Underwood to get out of bounds and stop the clock.
None of it comes as a surprise to wide receivers coach Jimmy Robinson, who has been raving about the 6-foot-3, 217-pound Nelson since the offseason. With veteran Donald Driver missing OTAs and the mandatory minicamp following arthroscopic surgery on each knee, and fellow starter Greg Jennings getting the last OTA practice of each week off, Nelson and Jones got plenty of extra work.
Nelson took advantage.
"Jordy's continued right where he left off. He really has. He's had an outstanding spring, but training camp has been more of the same," Robinson said. "He's just been real, real solid."
Robinson said Nelson's improvement can be traced to his comfort level with the offense. Robinson has all four top receivers lining up in every spot – flanker, split end, in the slot – and it's paid off.
Nelson's catch in the scrimmage, for example, came from the slot, where Driver and Jennings had previously gotten most of the work.
"I think the big thing (with Jordy) is just an overall understanding of the offense. He's so smart," Robinson said. "He totally understands what we're doing. He rarely makes mistakes. He doesn't have missed assignments. He's a real coachable kid."
Said Nelson: "I think the more comfortable you are out there, the more knowledge you have of the playbook, the less thinking you do. Then, you're able to just play football. You can worry about how to get open instead of making sure this is the right route that I have to run. By the time we break the huddle, I'm done thinking about the route. I'm more worried about how to run it and who I'm running it against."
Nelson also realizes that in an offense where Jennings and Driver are established 1,000-yard receivers, and tight end Jermichael Finley emerged as one of Rodgers' favorite targets last season, he has to make plays whenever possible or he might not see the ball.
"I try to take advantage of the opportunities I get, I guess," he said. "That's the only way you're going to get more balls."