By Todd Korth
I remember it like it was yesterday. It was an early fall evening sometime in the late 1970s and I had my big opportunity as a receiver for the Oconomowoc High School sophomore football team to score a touchdown.
The play was a "quick screen left," meaning the quarterback takes one step back and fires it to the wideout split out to the left side of the field. We were about five yards from the end zone against a tough Burlington team on their field. The ball was snapped, the quarterback threw a perfect pass to me, and I quickly turned toward the end zone for my first touchdown of the season. The only problem is I turned before the ball hit me between the numbers and the pass fell incomplete. Dang.
We never scored the touchdown. We lost the game. The confidence that I built in myself, my coaches and quarterback during practices prior to that game also dropped to the dew-covered turf. With few passes coming my way from that point on, it was a long season. Tough lesson for a skinny teen-ager.
How does this relate to the Green Bay Packers? Before the Packers reach the Super Bowl, like many (including yours truly) think they will, their corp of receivers will need to develop some confidence. This is one of many keys for the Packers this season, but a major one considering the off-season overhaul.
Sure, they walk it. They talk it. And they'll tell you they have all the confidence in the world to be the next Jerry Rice. But beginning this Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons, it will be time for the young receivers and veteran Terry Glenn to do it. Build their confidence game by game, catch by catch. Throughout training camp, the receivers have displayed an ability to make amazing catches. The group as a whole is perhaps the best that any Packers team has ever had to offer. Brett Favre has said many times that Glenn can be as good as he wants to be. Other experts feel Javon Walker is a future NFL star.
The fact is, they'll drop passes that are catchable. They'll catch passes that seem uncatchable. Expect this group to be inconsistent because of the newness to Favre and the Packers' offense.
Of course, with the drops will come criticism from the media and fans which will cause chinks in their collective confidence. If the chinks turn into cracks that eventually drop to the Lambeau Field turf, it could be a long season for the receivers.
With Glenn coming off an injury and Donald Driver, Robert Ferguson and Walker just getting their feet wet with Favre, Mike Sherman and offensive coordinator Tom Rossley would be wise to ease the receivers into the offense early in the season. The Packers feature a great offensive line, and Pro Bowlers Ahman Green and Bubba Franks. Use them as much as possible, then go to the receivers. As the season progresses, Green Bay's receivers should progress, and their confidence will grow like it did with New England's Troy Brown last year. By the time Brown reached Super Bowl XXXVI, he was a Pro Bowl receiver after hooking up with Tom Brady for 101 catches.
Chances are the receivers' numbers for the Packers will be down through the first quarter of the season compared to last year and the year before. In this case that might mean that Sherman will feature Green and Franks. That's a good thing. It's a long season.
The Packers will need to lean on their receivers, especially if the running game gets shut down, or the Packers are trying to rally late in a game. When the playoffs come around, they will need all areas of their team to be clicking for any success. If the receivers gain confidence in themselves, that area of the Packers will be much more productive than it has in recent seasons. That in turn will help the Packers achieve their ultimate goal. If not, it may mean another early exit in the playoffs.
Note: The Packers finished 12-4 in 2002 and lost in the first round of the NFC Playoffs to the Atlanta Falcons at home. Donald Driver led the Packers in receiving with 1,064 yards on 70 catches and nine touchdowns. Terry Glenn, in his only season in Green Bay, finished with 817 yards receiving on 56 catches and Javon Walker, in his rookie year, had 23 catches for 319 yards.