If there was a section in the Green Bay Packers’ media guide listing the players who generated the most buzz while having the fewest accomplishments, Jeff Janis surely would rank No. 1.
Janis, a seventh-round pick out of Division II Saginaw Valley State last year, missed the first couple weeks of training camp with shingles. When he returned, he did plenty of pique the fans’ interest, including touchdown receptions of 34 and 33 yards and a 62-yard kickoff return in the preseason. But his lack of consistency failed to win over the coaches or to gain the trust of quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
So, while the fans clamored for Janis to provide an extra weapon on offense and potentially jump-start a comatose kickoff-return unit, Janis spent most of the season in mothballs. He caught two passes for 16 yards in three games, and was inactive for the final 10 games of the season plus both playoff contests.
“It was a little frustrating,” Janis said this week, “but I just had to trust the coaches and do what they wanted me to do.”
This offseason, Jordy Nelson’s pain has been Janis’ gain. With the Packers’ Pro Bowl receiver sidelined by hip surgery, Janis has been running with the No. 1 offense. That’s put Janis in position to build some chemistry with Rodgers, which is critical because of the two-time MVP quarterback’s experience and mastery of the offense.
“There’s a couple of offenses,” Rodgers said a couple weeks ago. “There’s one that’s on paper and there’s one that’s run in the game.”
That’s the offense Janis must grasp if he’s going to be anything more than a bit player — or even make the team — given the potential depth and talent of the receiver corps.
“It’s a lot different going with Aaron because he’s on a whole other level, but I’m just trying to take advantage of all the reps that I get and try to make plays whenever he comes my way,” Janis said.
Janis has every imaginable physical tool. At 6-foot-2 7/8, he’s the tallest receiver on the roster. With a 4.42 in the 40 at the 2014 Scouting Combine, he’s the fastest receiver on the roster. Janis — who coach Mike McCarthy has called an “Olympian” in the weight room — put up 20 reps on the bench press at the Combine, making him possibly the strongest receiver on the roster.
That outrageous skill-set showed up at times. He made a handful of sensational catches during his abbreviated training camp and had the two long touchdowns. However, those would be his only catches of the preseason. Simply, he couldn’t outrun the huge disparity between Division II and the NFL.
Now’s the time for Janis to close that gap.
“Jeff’s developing,” McCarthy said on Wednesday. “He’s getting a lot of opportunities (because of Nelson’s injury). I think he’s done some good things on special teams. He’s done some things specific to his skill level that he’s good at and things he needs to improve on. No. 1 is special teams, No. 2 receiver. He’s done a lot of good things going up the field, catching the ball better. Obviously, being in synch with Aaron has been a big help. He had one out cut today that the timing of it was good, we completed it, but he can get better there fundamentally. I think Jeff’s really improving and he’s gotten a lot of quality reps with Aaron.”
The practice time with Rodgers and the No. 1 offense could pay dividends. It’s not quite the same thing, since Nelson was a second-round pick who earned immediate playing time, but he recalled an offseason in which Greg Jennings and Donald Driver weren’t on the practice field.
“It ... allowed James (Jones) and I to get a lot more reps,” Nelson said. “It allows you to be in a lot of situations. I think there’s some things you can go over in meetings rooms, but you can’t predict situations. The more reps you get, the more situations you’re in, the better you are of knowing what Aaron wants. If it’s the routes versus coverages, if it’s just checks, if it’s his demeanor with his checks and how subtle he can be, (it’s) making sure you’re on the same page as him. The speed of the game is the same for you and him at the same time. The more you’re out there, the more balls you catch and the more confidence he grows in you. I think that’s the key. Just continuing to get those reps. He’s taking advantage of that and I think it’s big, and I think you’ll see a big step come training camp and preseason.”
Maybe one play during the second week of OTAs could provide that confidence boost Janis and Rodgers need. On fourth-and-goal during a two-minute drill, Rodgers fired the ball to Janis, who caught a low pass in the end zone for the winning touchdown as time expired.
“I think the biggest thing with Aaron is he wants us to be mentally on the same page,” Janis said. “He knows physical mistakes are going to happen — like dropped balls and things like that — but mental errors are unacceptable to him. So, I think that’s where I’m really trying to take a step.”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.