Packers very comfortable with their receivers
“Obviously, Greg and Donald are the starters, but we’re going to be good whoever’s in there,” said Jimmy Robinson, who is coaching the wide receivers for a fifth season. “I am so comfortable with the group. I don’t care who’s in the game.”
Since being drafted in the second round in 2006, Greg Jennings has played 3,069 snaps alongside Donald Driver, who has played 3,420. Together, they join Boyd Dowler-Max McGee, Carroll Dale-Dowler, James Lofton-John Jefferson, Sterling Sharpe-Robert Brooks, Antonio Freeman-Brooks and Javon Walker-Driver on the club’s list of all-time receiving tandems.
After Jordy Nelson came along in the second round in 2008, he and James Jones essentially have split time as the No. 3 and No. 4 receivers. In the last two seasons, Jones has played 780 snaps compared with 718 for Nelson.
For two years, Aaron Rodgers has been throwing to a corps with fairly defined roles: Jennings at split end and Driver at flanker in base, Driver in the slot in three wide, Jennings often in the slot in four wide, and both Jones and Nelson usually playing outside.
As training camp opens, positions and playing time appear less locked in.
“Jordy and James are at that stage where the next step on the ladder is within their reach,” offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. “Obviously, we have to see what happens with Driver’s knee when he comes back. Wide receivers are like D-linemen. Those guys roll into the game. Those guys are going to play.”
Driver underwent arthroscopic surgery on both knees during the off-season. In his absence, Jones and Nelson had the chance to play all over the formation, and Robinson liked what he saw.
“Jordy and James had great off-seasons,” said Robinson. “With Donald being out we’ve had an opportunity to mix and match and move guys around. I think it’s been a great off-season.”
Philbin is assuming Driver’s knees will be fine; in a late June conversation, Driver assured him that they will be.
If Driver does return to his usual form, Jennings can elevate his game to the elite level and both Jones and Nelson really are improved, the Packers won’t have to take a backseat to any other team. As it stands now, Green Bay’s wide-outs are in a mix with 10 other teams, including Dallas, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Minnesota and Arizona from the NFC.
“That system, and I give (Mike) McCarthy credit for this, that system creates receivers,” an NFC personnel director said. “... They’re all kind of interchangeable parts.”
No matter who’s on the field, the corps has little reason to feel smug. Dropping 28 of 343 targeted passes in 17 games a year ago, the wide receivers posted their worst drop ratio (8.2 percent) of the decade.
Driver was the chief offender, dropping a career-high 11 passes for the highest total in Green Bay since Antonio Freeman dropped 12 in 1997. Driver also dropped seven in 2008 after having just two in ’07.
The 35-year-old Driver hasn’t missed a game since 2003 despite taking as many if not more stinging shots inside the numbers on the field than any receiver in the league. Still, he has never missed an entire off-season, either.
Driver often has said he plans to play until he’s 40. His contract, which contains a $4 million base salary and roster bonuses totaling $2.8 million, expires after the season. Never one to need motivation, he will break Lofton’s club yardage record with 507 more.
“I haven’t seen him do anything since Jan. 10, but he’s still got that desire,” Philbin said. “Let’s be honest. There’s guys in the league that have similar talent that don’t have near the production because they’re not as tough mentally and don’t have the passion for the game. That’s what has made him the player that he is.”
Driver’s statistics outpace Jennings’ over their four-year partnership, but Jennings has crept past Driver the past two seasons, counting playoffs: 156 receptions to 148, 16.3 average to 14.3, 14 touchdowns to 11, 266 targeted passes to 230 and 1,752 snaps to 1,729.
Jennings, who had 11 plays of 20 yards or more in the last six games compared with Driver’s two, also cut back on his drops and was much better after the catch.
“You’re impressed with his fundamentals and technique, getting in and out of breaks,” said Philbin. “He does some things effortlessly. He’s primed to have a good season.”
Entering camp, there is little to separate Jones and Nelson, according to their coaches. Asked to identify his No. 3 man, Robinson replied, “Jones-Jordy.”
Besides the rich investment in Nelson, the Packers have a third-round pick in Jones. They need one of them to grow into a legitimate starter, but so far they’ve been just good complementary types.
Built like a brick outhouse, Jones isn’t a physical runner or blocker. He tends to drift mentally, which has led to some sloppy routes and way too many drops (20 in three years).
“He has to avoid the fluctuations,” said Philbin. “Some of it just came maybe from lack of concentration, sometimes the injury bug.”
Nelson probably is a more dependable route runner, catcher and blocker than Jones but hasn’t demonstrated the pizzazz after the catch that he has shown on returns. Neither player has more than adequate speed for a group that lacks a true burner.
The frontrunners for the No. 5 job seem to be Brett Swain, Chastin West and Patrick Williams. Swain is expected to practice sometime in August after undergoing reconstructive knee surgery Nov. 5.