Little-known Packers wide receivers hope to earn opportunities, trust with Aaron Rodgers
GREEN BAY — To Aaron Rodgers, the formula hasn’t changed. He knows it’s not as easy as it sounds, but he knows it works.
“Like we’ve always said with young receivers — you’ve got to put yourself in position to get reps with me, and you do that by being very sound on your assignment and making some plays,” the Green Bay Packers two-time NFL MVP quarterback explained. “That’s how you get a chance to get out there and make some plays (with me).”
Two days into training camp, that’s exactly what the lesser-known wideouts on the Packers’ depth chart — from rookie draft picks J’Mon Moore, Marquez Valdez-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown, to practice-squad holdovers DeAngelo Yancey and Jake Kumerow, to roster longshots Kyle Lewis and Adonis Jennings — have been trying to do.
And on Friday, Kumerow put on a clinic on how to catch the coaches’ — and Rodgers’ — attention while playing with backup quarterbacks Brett Hundley and DeShone Kizer.
The former UW-Whitewater star not only caught three passes during the No. 3 offense’s successful 2-minute drill with Kizer at quarterback, including a 9-yarder on a slant and an 18-yarder downfield to pick up a first down.
Then, during a pass-under-pressure period, he reeled in a downfield corner route from Hundley with a fabulous leaping, over-the-shoulder catch against safety Raven Greene.
None of those plays came with Rodgers on the field, but you can bet after getting snaps with Rodgers during organized team activity practices, the plays got No. 12’s attention.
“It feels good to get a few catches under your belt going into the rest of camp,” said Kumerow, who came out of Whitewater in 2015 and spent two years on the Cincinnati Bengals’ practice squad before spending time with the New England Patriots and the Packers last season. “The more plays you make, the better. And I’m just trying to do that every day.
“Hopefully tomorrow I come out and have another good day.”
Of course, one good day does not a training camp make — especially in helmets and shorts, with the first in-pads practices beginning Saturday. But if your name isn’t Davante Adams or Randall Cobb, you have to start somewhere.
That’s what Geronimo Allison did two years ago, making plays early in camp as a little-known undrafted rookie free agent from Illinois. This season, he’s penciled in as the team’s No. 3 receiver behind Adams and Cobb.
That’s what Michael Clark did last summer, catching Rodgers’ eye — and almost every ball thrown his direction — as one of the feel-good stories of camp.
The ex-college basketball player came in as a long shot project, but he did enough to earn a spot on the practice squad and was called up to the 53-man roster late in the year. He decided to step away from football shortly before camp opened.
Of course, the other part of the equation is making plays with Rodgers once those opportunities present themselves.
And Moore, who has gotten snaps with the starters the first two days, is proof of that. On Friday, he was in with Rodgers during a team period and wasn’t ready when a pass came his way. He dropped the critical third-down pass that would have resulted in a first down, but the mistake might have been less of a physical one than a mental one, as Moore just isn’t accustomed to playing with the caliber of quarterback such as Rodgers.
“For the young guys, it’s all mental. And I think they’re starting to realize that with the way our schedule is, we’re on the practice field for an hour and a half, two hours, but we’re in meetings for eight or nine hours a day,” Cobb said. “That’s the most important part of this game. It’s 90 percent mental.”
While coach Mike McCarthy cautioned Friday against reading too much into who’s working with Rodgers and the first-string right now — “We’re in the install (phase),” McCarthy said, “(so) I wouldn’t get caught up on who’s running with who right now” — he emphasized how important it is for young players to work their way up the depth chart and spend time on the field with Rodgers, and watch closely and learn when Rodgers is on the field with the other receivers.
“Every opportunity is earned,” McCarthy said, adding that mental reps — and the lessons to be gleaned by young players when they’re observing — are also vital. “(Trying to) ‘expand our cognitive creativity’ was a point of mine in the team meeting. … I think the conversations in between plays is very important. Those are teaching moments.”
For their part, Cobb and Adams took issue with the suggestion that the team has nobody of import behind them. But following the offseason release of longtime productive veteran Jordy Nelson, and with Clark’s abrupt retirement prior to camp, only two other receivers on the roster — Allison and Trevor Davis — have ever set foot on an NFL field in regular-season play. So they have their work cut out for them.
“It’s bigger than just me and Davante,” Cobb said, insisting. “You want to look at that and you (can) to highlight that if you want to, but this team goes as the entire offense goes, and we’ve always felt that way. So it’s going to take more than me and Davante.
“Like (in 2014), (when) me and Jordy had great years, Davante was a big piece of that (as a rookie). Now that it’s me and Davante, it’s going to be other guys who are going to be a big piece of that as well.”