Ferguson falls short of goals

Wide receiver drops ball on opportunity for big season

Robert Ferguson had high personal expectations to start this season, but like the Packers, he has fallen short of them.

"It didn't work out like I expected it to," said Ferguson on Wednesday.

For a variety of reasons, Ferguson, one of the Packers' starting wide receivers, has not had the impact he wanted to have or was expected to have this year. Still, he continues to work like a pro and remain patient.

"He's the same, it's just that it gets a little frustrating when he's not getting the ball," said fellow receiver Antonio Chatman. "He kind of feels like he's not part of the offense at times, but he's the same. He gets open. It just happens like that."

More than the injuries he has dealt with or the Packers' overall team struggles, Ferguson has not found his role on this year's team and has not been getting many opportunities. In 10 games this season (as a regular starter), he has just 26 catches for 364 yards and three touchdowns. Those numbers hardly constitute the elite status that Ferguson is striving to achieve.

At times early in the season, when he was at full health, Ferguson did not appear to be the same old ‘Fergie' that teammates and fans have become accustomed to seeing. When Brett Favre threw him a ball to make a play, too often the defender made the play instead. When he ran a slant, his timing was off, and thus, the result was an incompletion. Such was the case when cameras caught Favre on the sideline against Carolina on Oct. 3 trying to "encourage" Ferguson to run his route more precise and with more aggressiveness.

The above instances certainly do not resemble ones that Ferguson had become known for in his previous years as a part-time starter and No. 3 receiver. He always was believed to have the ability to be a top wide receiver, but has never entirely shown it on the field.

This season, when Javon Walker went down with a season-ending ACL injury in Week 1, Ferguson had his chance to step up and have an increased role. It was his chance to shine with Donald Driver just like Walker and Driver did in 2004, as the most prolific receiver tandem in team history. He had his moments with a 37-yard touchdown on fourth down against the Buccaneers and a 51-yard reception against the Saints, but he was never able to post more than four catches or more than 84 yards receiving in any one game. It is possible that he was still trying to shake off the effects of a nasty clothesline hit delivered by Jaguars' safety Donovin Darius the year before, but both he and Sherman insisted at the start of the year that he was ready to play with no recurring issues.

On Oct. 23 at Minnesota, Ferguson sprained his LCL and missed three games. Since his comeback from that injury, he has been a non-factor, with just nine catches for 85 yards. His biggest catch on one of his best routes of the season came last week against the Lions. A 17-yard reception on an out route set up Ryan Longwell's game-winning 28-yard field goal in overtime.

On Wednesday, Sherman deflected a question regarding Ferguson's impact by saying "he has not been on the field a lot" and "has been playing hurt most of the season." Certainly his injury status can be debated, but Ferguson said he was 100% healthy at the beginning of the season and when he came back from his LCL. He is miffed why he has not been able to have the type of season alongside Driver that Walker had a year ago – when there did not appear to be a clear-cut No. 1 receiver in the offense.

"That's a good question," said Ferguson. "I wish I knew the answer to that. Then I'd probably address it. … I guess that's just the way it's happened this year. I think more than anything, the tight ends have caught more balls collectively as a group. I think they all have 20 to 30 catches and ‘Will' (William Henderson) and (Tony) Fisher have 20 to 30 catches, so I think the ball is getting sprayed around the offense a bit more."

Ferguson has deferred more plays to Driver with regard to the wide receiver position, and thus, has not had many opportunities. The two even play split end and flanker interchangeably at times.

"The way our program has been," explained Driver, "it's been me, him, me, him, me, him, and then we've been going one receiver sets and sometimes two, and then they've been playing double zone on us, so it's kind of hard when they play that double zone for either one of us to get open. He's been getting some opportunities, but not the most of them. I've been getting most of the opportunities taking more of the single receiver sets than he has."

Favre did take a few shots downfield to Ferguson against the Lions last week, but did not have any luck. Ferguson said the wind and weather played a factor in the lack of success with those plays. What they did do, however, was set up the Lions' defensive backfield for his big catch in overtime.

Ferguson has come a long way in his five-year NFL career, gaining the respect of Favre and being a favorite of Sherman because of his work ethic and team attitude. The only thing he has lacked is production. He hopes he can change that over the last three games of this season, when, like several players on the team, he will be evaluated for next year.

Signed through the 2008 season, Ferguson would appear to be secure with a job in Green Bay, but with Walker expected to make a full recovery and Driver now a fixture with the Packers, it will be hard for Ferguson to make the kind of impact he wants. Thus, his future and what role he is to play for the Packers may take on a different form that what he intended.

Matt Tevsh

Editor's note: Matt Tevsh is a regular contributor to Packer Report and PackerReport.com. E-mail him at matttevsh@hotmail.com.

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