Janis delivers in 'huge game' for rookie receiver
With reporters swarmed at his locker, their TV cameras and digital recorders documenting every word, Jeff Janis reached back and let out his deepest fear.
Yes, the seventh-round rookie receiver from Saginaw Valley State was scared he might miss his chance. Sidelined with a case of shingles that forced him out of training camp's opening week, Janis let his mind wander to the worst-case scenario.
Was he going to get cut?
"For a while, when I was out, I started to think a little bit that way," Janis said. "I tried to just remain positive."
By Thursday night, those fears were almost gone.
It will be an anxious, nervous weekend for the rookie. Janis joked that he may hide in a movie theater the next couple days, trying to distract his mind while NFL rosters are cut to 53 players.
Regardless, he should have nothing to worry about.
Janis likely locked up his roster spot during the Packers' 34-14 win against the Chiefs in their preseason finale. He had a 34-yard touchdown catch from quarterback Scott Tolzien on 4th-and-3 in the first half, another big play in a preseason full of them.
Before the snap, Janis had a "good idea" the football was coming to him. Here, on his new home turf, was a chance to control his fate.
"We had a man-beater route on him," Tolzien said. "Really, we had a really good call for that situation. We've all seen Jeff has a great deal of speed, and he beat his guy off the line and made a really nice catch."
Janis' pure speed stopped surprising teammates long ago.
Ever since his return, the 6-foot-3 bullet has been a big-play threat every time he's stepped on the field. Janis has caught only two passes in preseason games. Both went for touchdowns, including a 33-yard catch-and-run from quarterback Matt Flynn against the St. Louis Rams.
"When you're in practice, you don't really get a sense of the play-making abilities he has because we're catching the ball, tagging off and everyone is pursuing," Flynn said Thursday. "When you get into a game situation like this, when he gets the edges and can show off that speed and people have to get him down, he stands out. He's had some really good games and made some really good plays."
Janis admitted he felt the pressure before kickoff.
Even at the end of a solid preseason, he said there was something to prove. Janis was fully aware what hung in the balance. He called it a "huge game," the crossroads for his NFL future.
There will be difficult decisions for general manager Ted Thompson in the next two days. Perhaps no position will cause more night sweats than receiver. The Packers kept only five receivers last season. For NFL teams, a sixth is sometimes a luxury.
With Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Jarrett Boykin and second-round rookie Davante Adams locks, recent history set up an intense competition for the fifth — and perhaps final — spot.
Nelson and Cobb sat Thursday night, so the names at the end of the depth chart got plenty of opportunities. They didn't disappoint.
Second-year receiver Myles White caught four passes for 36 yards, including his first touchdown of the preseason. Kevin Dorsey, a seventh-round pick last year, added an 11-yard catch.
Ultimately, it may have been special teams that separated Janis. In the second half, the rookie had a 62-yard kickoff return that proved his straight-line speed could be a threat in the return game.
"Special teams is huge," Janis said. "Especially at the receiver position, because we have so many guys. So if you're going to make the roster as a receiver, you've got to play special teams."
Now, he waits. The suspense of cuts day is here, and Janis – no matter his optimism – isn't immune.
His fate is in Thompson's hands. Janis said he'll hope for the best.
"I think there's still a lot more than I can improve, but I think I've shown what I can do. And I think it's going to be encouraging for the coaches. So hopefully they make the decision."
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @ByRyanWood