"Diondre Borel is a guy that gives us a different look because he plays a similar position to that of Randall Cobb," said quarterback Aaron Rodgers. "Diondre has made as big a jump as anybody from Year 1 to Year 2. He really made the most of his reps on the scout team last year."
Who is Diondre Borel? Perhaps he can be described in football terms simply as these three things:
— A 23-year-old wide receiver who spent the 2011 season on the Packers' practice squad.
— One of a number of young players trying to win a backup spot at one of the deepest positions on the team.
— A former quarterback.
Just two years ago, Borel was preparing to lead Utah State in his senior season. After playing receiver as a freshman, he had blossomed into a multithreat quarterback for the Aggies, finishing No. 2 in school history with 8,096 yards of total offense (6,698 passing yards).
But Borel never really projected as a quarterback in the NFL. His size (6-0, 199 pounds) and speed (4.5 in the 40 at his pro day) made him a better candidate to play wide receiver, so the Packers signed him as an undrafted free agent on July 28, just after the lockout ended.
"Last year, we came into training camp and we didn't have much time," Borel told Packer Report after the last minicamp practice. "It was like learn this and practice it the same day or the next day. We had to learn a new install each time. We were just getting thrown into the fire. That was the hardest part. But this year, it was a little bit more relaxed. You could learn the plays and know what you're supposed to do."
Borel might need less help than any of the other young receivers, however. He is one of only two receivers (Cobb) on the roster with extensive quarterback experience in college (he was a three-year starter). That has helped him develop quickly as a wide receiver at the next level.
"He's a great teammate, a hard worker and he really understands the game," said Rodgers. "I think he has the luxury of being a quarterback in college, so he sees the game through a quarterback's eyes, and that gives him a slight advantage over guys he's competing with because he understands timing and progression maybe a little bit quicker than some of those other guys. Diondre, I think, has had one of the top springs out of the guys who you were looking for to make a jump."
Borel described his advantage this way:
"I just feel I see the field as a whole better for what I've gotta do as a receiver. Looking at the defensive shell, or who's blitzing and who's coming, and having an idea of what my quarterback is thinking on that particular play when I'm running the route, that helps."
Working with the highly skilled Rodgers is different for Borel, but he is adjusting.
"He's a little bit faster," said Borel, "but I'm starting to get up to his speed."
Coming out of college, Borel was described by his offensive coordinator at Utah State as a "Seneca Wallace-type athlete." Some even thought he would be a perfect fit as a quarterback in the Canadian Football League. In the Packers' system, he most closely compares to Cobb, who was Kentucky's all-everything on offense as a receiver, rusher, return man and passer.
"I remember seeing him playing some games at quarterback, but we haven't talked about (how playing QB in college helps playing WR)," said Borel of Cobb. "But I'm pretty sure that helps him also because I can see that he's pretty smart himself. He's got the plays down and does things the right way, too."
Borel will be getting ready for training camp by continuing to work back home in California at 715 Fitness with trainer Jamal Liggin, who has worked with several skill position players in the NFL. Borel has been focusing on running routes, sharpening his cuts and refining his receiver skills with the hopes of continuing to build Rodgers' faith in him.
"It feels good to hear those things coming from the starting quarterback," said Borel. "It feels good, but I've got to just keeping working, keep going hard in practice and improve on the little things every day."
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Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org