Jordy Nelson doesn’t know how teams will defend him differently this season, but after his career-best season in 2011 he figures something is probably coming.
Perhaps that’s why the Green Bay Packers receiver said Tuesday that if he were a betting man, he’d “wager a lot of money that I won’t have 15 touchdowns again.”
Maybe Nelson is just trying to lower some of the expectations that have been placed on him after he caught 68 passes for 1,263 yards and 15 touchdowns last season. Or maybe he’s expecting to see all kinds of coverages rolled his way.
Either way, based on the way he has played during training camp and the preseason, he looks like he’s primed for another big season regardless of how opposing defensive coordinators try to cover him. Entering his fifth NFL season, Nelson has been the Packers’ most consistent and most productive receiver this summer.
“Oh, he’s had a very, very good camp,” receivers coach Edgar Bennett said. “Mindset-wise, he’s more along the lines of every day, every game, every year, you’ve got to prove yourself all over again. You mention how teams might cover him, you’ve got to give them something to pay attention to every week.”
The Packers have the luxury of knowing that if an opposing defense opts to dedicate an extra defender to take away Nelson, then it should open up things for the likes of Greg Jennings, Randall Cobb, James Jones and Jermichael Finley.
Still, the Packers want to maximize Nelson’s involvement because of his wide array of skills. At 6-foot-3 and 217 pounds, he might be the Packers’ most complete receiver.
“He has everything you’re looking for,” offensive coordinator Tom Clements said. “He’s smart, he’s detailed, he runs good routes, he makes catches, he makes tough catches and he has outstanding speed. People don’t give him credit for the speed he has, but I’ve never seen him caught from behind. He’s having a great camp.”
In an effort to keep teams from minimizing Nelson’s effectiveness, coach Mike McCarthy said in the offseason that he would like to use Nelson more in the slot this season.
Last season, Nelson played almost exclusively on the outside. Of his 633 snaps last season, he lined up inside on only 36 of them, according to ProFootballFocus.com. He was targeted 93 times overall but just 10 of those throws came to him when he lined up in the slot, and he caught eight of them.
“As far as moving him around, we’ll take all that into consideration,” Bennett said. “Certainly what helps is, for us, the coverage will dictate where the ball goes. But he’s able to do certain things where we can move him around.”
Most of Nelson’s playing time in camp has again come at the two outside positions. Only occasionally has he lined up in the slot. But that doesn’t mean Nelson won’t see more time in the slot, where Jennings and Donald Driver had the most snaps last season.
“Right now, we’re not game planning,” Nelson said. “It’s all about installing the plays, and everyone’s pretty much staying at their positions. But once the season comes, we’ll start moving guys around and getting the matchups they want. Game in and game out, it will be different.”
The Packers have to weigh the benefits of moving Nelson inside versus what they might lose without him on the perimeter, where he and quarterback Aaron Rodgers have burned so many defenders with back-shoulder throws or straight go routes. In Thursday’s preseason game against Cleveland, Nelson lined up wide to the right and ran a go down the sideline. Rodgers hit him for a 20-yard touchdown over cornerback Joe Haden.
“He’s kind of hit a spot in his career when you expect him to make those plays,” Rodgers said after that game. “Whether that’s good or not, it’s almost surprising when you have a one-on-one matchup with him and he doesn’t come up with the football. He’s just playing at a great level for us. He has a lot of confidence. He gives the quarterback a lot of confidence throwing to him because you feel like a ball against a good defender could’ve been an interception with a guy who doesn’t attack the ball like he did, and he makes you look good a lot.”
Last season, the Packers saw a high volume of Cover-2 defense because teams presumably were afraid to bring up a safety near the line of scrimmage for fear that Rodgers would pick them apart, which he did so often anyway.
“I think we’re going to continue to see more two-man, and they’re going to make us run the ball,” Nelson said. “We’ll just have to adjust on the fly. They’re going to struggle to decide who they’re going to try to take away. Everyone knows the matchup problems (defenses have) with Greg and Jermichael if we can keep them spread out and keep multiple receivers on the field.”
If that’s the case, maybe Nelson can repeat his 2011 numbers.
“I’d take another 15 if they come,” Nelson said. “But hopefully I can just be sound.”
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @RobDemovsky.