In 2011, 2012 and 2014, the last three seasons in which Aaron Rodgers and Jordy Nelson played the entire season together, the Green Bay Packers averaged 30.8 points per game.
In 2015, with Nelson sidelined for the entire season with a torn ACL, the Packers averaged merely 23.0 points per game.
Nelson is back, taking part in the first day of the team’s offseason workouts on Monday. With almost five months until the 2016 regular season kicks off, Nelson wasn’t ready to make any proclamations about what lies ahead for himself or the formerly high-flying offense.
“I’m not going to sit here and make predictions (or) try to predict the future,” Nelson said. “We’ve seen what we can do in the past. Hopefully, we can have a good offseason, good camp. There are a lot of things that go into that, obviously. We look forward to start the process, start the grind, and see what happens.”
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers voiced the same restrained tone, though it’s hard to imagine anyone else on the team being happier about Nelson’s progress. Rodgers’ play suffered greatly without Nelson. He entered last season with an NFL-record career passer rating of 106.0. Last season, his rating was just 92.7, with only one game of better than 100.0 during the final 15 games (including playoffs).
“It’s early,” Rodgers said of Nelson’s impact. “It’s the spring right now, so we’re going to see how the team comes together. We’re not going to make any wild predictions or expectations on him. We’re going to let him get healthy as slow as he wants to. But he’s a premier player and he’s a great locker room guy.”
Nelson has been ahead of schedule throughout his rehab from an injury sustained on Aug. 23 at Pittsburgh. Late in the season, about four months removed from the injury, Nelson could be seen working out in the Don Hutson Center, shuffling side to side while playing catch with a medicine ball.
On Monday, Nelson said he did “pretty much” the entire workout program sent home with the rest of the players at the end of the season, and he plans on being a full participant in the first phase of the offseason program. Nelson said he’s run some pass routes, and his participation in the full-squad OTAs that begin in May will be “up for discussion.” The ultimate target date is Sunday, Sept. 11 — when the Packers start the season at Jacksonville. He credited the medical and training staffs for getting him on the right trajectory.
“I’d probably still be on crutches if it was up to me,” Nelson said. “Doc (Pat McKenzie) did a great job with the surgery. (Trainers) Nate (Weir) and Flea (Bryan Engel) have been great. They’ve pushed me. They’ve allowed me to progress as needed, and I think that’s one reason I stayed here to allow them to see the progression. When we come back today, they’ve seen me for the last six, seven months and they know I’m ready to continue to progress instead of being gone for that long and now we kind of have to do our own thing of evaluation. They’ve seen it all. I think that’s the perk of staying here and working for it. We’ve been creative with the exercises. They’ve changed it up. They’ve kept me entertained. They’ve kept my mind with something new, so I don’t get bored with it. We’ve had some battles of progression, but that’s mainly to push them a lot bit and then they try to pull us back a little back and we find a happy medium.”
Noting that every ACL injury and recovery is different, Nelson said he hadn’t reached out to any of his peers other than former Packers defensive end Aaron Kampman, who twice has endured the injury and rehab. He said he’s not worried about the prospect of losing a bit of his speed — “If I do lose a step, there’s nothing I can do about it — because he’s attacked his rehab with the required intensity. Regardless, he said he has no doubts.
“Everything we’ve done through rehab, I don’t have a mental block with anything,” he said. “When we progress to something else – if it’s into the running or the jumping or the cutting or whatever — maybe the first time you’re cautious with it. I mean, they want you to be cautious with it because you haven’t done it, but the next time we hear it, we’re good to go. I haven’t had anything where it’s slowing down after running or anything to where I’ve had that mental block. If I can’t jump up and land, then we have bigger issues than trying to play football.”
Bill Huber is publisher of 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 www.twitter.com/PackerReport.