Offensive coordinator Tom Clements called the receiver group “probably the deepest that I can recall.”
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers has mentioned the possibility of keeping six receivers on several occasions.
What, has everyone forgotten 2011, when rookie Randall Cobb ranked fifth among the team’s receivers with 25 receptions? Or 2012, when Donald Driver was stuck on the bench as the fifth receiver and Jarrett Boykin was waiting in the wings as the sixth receiver?
“When people say that, I always stress to the guys in my room that that’s earned,” receivers coach Edgar Bennett said.
The problem is, beyond Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and Jarrett Boykin, these guys haven’t earned a thing.
Throughout training camp, it’s been one step forward and, too often, one step back. Second-round pick Davante Adams, with probably as many bad drops as great plays, will be the fourth receiver by default. Myles White, who might be the front-runner for the No. 5 receiver, has made a bunch of nice plays in training camp but had drops on Monday and Wednesday. Kevin Dorsey, who is chasing White in the battle to be No. 5, dropped a couple of passes on Monday. Chris Harper had drops on Family Night and the preseason game. Alex Gillett’s most noteworthy play, a circus catch during the first week of practice, came moments after dropping a perfectly thrown crossing route. Even Jeff Janis, who has made four sensational catches in as many practices since returning from shingles, had a terrible drop that doomed an impressive two-minute drill on Tuesday.
Of course, it’s sheer lunacy to compare Cobb or Driver to White or Dorsey. Cobb was a second-round pick who set records at Kentucky. Driver is the all-time Packers receiving leader. Still, all the praise heaped on the young corps of receivers seems more like wishful thinking than anything, based on their collegiate credentials and NFL resumes.
“We have to earn that,” Bennett said. “We have to earn that by our actions. It can’t be inconsistent as far as what we’re doing on Sundays or whenever we line up. We’ve got to be extremely consistent. We’ve got to go out there and prove it every single practice, every single day. That’s really the bottom line. From a room standpoint, there are talented guys in that room but, to every man, we’ve got to earn that. You’ve got to make the most out of each and every opportunity. We haven’t been consistent to our standards. We have to improve on that.”
Of all the receivers behind the “Big Three” of Nelson, Cobb and Boykin, White has nine career receptions and the others have a big, fat zero. Rodgers understands that a who’s-who list of receivers has been replaced by a who’s-that group vying for roster spots.
“There’s not a lot from the rest of those guys as far as on-field production,” Rodgers said this week. “You see it a lot in the practice environment and the classroom environment. Those guys are very smart. I think Edgar maybe doesn’t get the credit he deserves for getting those guys ready to play. ... There’s a lot of talent behind the first three guys. It will be interesting to see what they do at that spot — keep five or keep six.”
Whoever earns that fifth (and, perhaps, sixth) spot will then have to earn the trust of Rodgers. That hasn’t happened yet, as Rodgers has worked mostly with Nelson, Cobb, Boykin and Adams.
“I haven’t had a lot of reps with them,” Rodgers said of White, Dorsey, Harper, Gillett and Janis. “You really have to earn the trust of the coaching staff and myself to earn some playing time. For me, that comes directly through the preparation. If you’re making a lot of mental mistakes out there, it’s going to be hard to trust you to be in the right spot at the right time on game day. Those guys have got to show that they can mentally understand what we’re trying to do because, physically, there’s a lot of talent in that group. The mental side is what separates the guys who dress on game day and the guys who don’t.”
Ultimately, a few factors will weigh into who wins that final spot or spots at receiver. The first is obvious: Can he get open and catch the ball? Beyond that, though, can he block? And, most importantly, can he play special teams? Dorsey has been a No. 1 on kickoff returns, kickoff and punt return. Janis might get in the mix as the kickoff returner. White, meanwhile, has struggled in learning how to field punts and isn’t a No. 1 on any of the units.
“The situation will sort itself out. The players will determine it,” Bennett said. “The most important part is making the most of your opportunities. When you’re given an opportunity to go line up, make the most of it. Ultimately, it’s always about your actions and guys fully understand what’s expected as Green Bay Packers.”
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.