The Green Bay Packers must go from 75 players to the regular-season limit of 53 by 3 p.m. (Central) on Saturday. Most of the transactions will be easy.
What might be the most difficult decision will be on receiver Jared Abbrederis.
You know Abbrederis’ story: He tore an ACL during the first week of training camp last year and missed the entire season. This summer, he suffered a severe concussion on the first day of training camp and missed the next 15 practices and the first three preseason games before returning for Tuesday’s practice and Thursday’s preseason finale.
In his first game since playing in the Citrus Bowl on Jan. 1, 2014, Abbrederis played 62 of 68 offensive snaps. It was a heavy workload for a player who perhaps had half as many 11-on-11 snaps during his abbreviated training camp.
Abbrederis’ first touch against the Saints was an impressive 17-yard punt return in which he broke three tackles. Other than that, he didn’t do much to distinguish himself – not surprisingly considering the rust and lack of game conditioning. Afterward, he said there were times when he wished he didn’t have to run his pass route because he was out of gas. He finished with one catch for 6 insignificant yards. He was targeted four times, including a post pattern in which he was open but quarterback Brett Hundley’s pass got to him on a hop.
Abbrederis was drafted in the fifth round in May 2014. His first game was in September 2015. That 16-month wait no doubt will be a breeze compared to the wait to find out if he’ll make the 53-man roster on Saturday.
What will the Packers do with the Wisconsin native and former Wisconsin star? It’s perhaps the most compelling story line of Cutdown Saturday.
Did he play almost 70 snaps – he was the returner on all six of the Saints’ punts, too – because the Packers had run out of receivers? Green Bay drafted Ty Montgomery, signed five receivers after the draft and added two more during training camp. Of those eight, only Larry Pinkard and Ed Williams played on Thursday – and Pinkard was lost to a shoulder injury in the second half.
There might be something to that, but there’s little doubt the coaches and scouts were curious to see him in action after a long layoff.
“I think he did well,” said Jordy Nelson, who will miss this season with a torn ACL. “Obviously, he hasn’t played a game in over a year, so it was going to be hard for him out there. But I think the main thing, you saw what he can do on the punt returns, just making people miss. The route running we know will be there; we saw that early in camp last year. Even as short as it was, he was having a great camp. I think he was going to be our No. 4 when he got hurt. So, they have some film on that, they know what he can do from what he did at Wisconsin, so it’s out there.”
If this decision were based solely on training camp and the preseason, it wouldn’t be a contest. Montgomery, Jeff Janis and Myles White would take spots three, four and five. Abbrederis would be released and signed to the practice squad on Sunday.
But this decision doesn’t seem to be based only on what happened this summer. You never get a second chance to make a first impression, and Abbrederis made a heck of an impression for a guy who didn’t even make it to Family Night last year.
“It’ll be a short body of work that we do evaluate him from, but you go back and look at the full body of work of last year’s camp, as well,” quarterbacks/receivers coach Alex Van Pelt said. “He’s had some unfortunate injuries but I thought he was having an outstanding camp last year before he hurt his knee. For me, that carries some weight.”
So what do the Packers do? Do they keep Abbrederis as a sixth receiver at the risk of losing Carl Bradford, Demetri Goodson, Lane Taylor, Rajion Neal or whoever the 53rd man on the roster would be? Do they see his upside as so high that he’s worth keeping over White, who had a strong training camp but probably is never going to be more than a fringe player?
The common-sense approach would be to release Abbrederis and sign him to the practice squad. After all, given he’s had more significant injuries (two) than regular-season games (zero), he wouldn’t be a hot commodity on waivers. But the coaches like Abbrederis and the MVP quarterback likes Abbrederis. Ultimately, it will depend on how much general manager Ted Thompson likes Abbrederis and whether it’s worth risking a talented young player for a talented young player with a troubling injury history.