The first touchdown gave Jeff Janis all the confidence he needed. Could the former Saginaw Valley State receiver play at this level? The 34 yards of exhaust he powdered on the St. Louis Rams’ secondary offered a resounding “yes.”
Two months have passed since the Green Bay Packers’ second preseason game. Janis did enough in August to make the 53-man roster, but the seventh-round rookie receiver has been quiet since — a fact he’s well aware of. Press-Gazette Media caught up with Janis for an update on his progress.
You’ve had a couple games now to experience live snaps. What do you think so far?
Janis: Pretty good. Just getting used to the speed of the game and everything. It’s a little different than practice. I think everything’s going pretty well. I’m just trying to get the best reps I can on special teams, and if I get thrown in there on offense.
The speed of the game, it’s a jump coming out of college, but going from Saginaw Valley State to the NFL, how much different did that feel?
Janis: It’s a lot faster, to be honest. I think it’s one of those things where, when you step on the field and you realize the speed of the game, you just kind of pick that up and go with it. I think that’s what I did.
How close do you think you are to being comfortable with the speed of the game?
Janis: I think it’s going to take me a little while, but I think I’m doing pretty well. Like I said, I think it’s something I can improve on, along with all kinds of things at receiver. I’m just trying to take in as much as I can and learn and get better every day.
Aaron Rodgers talks about how every rookie has the “I belong” moment. When did you have that moment?
Janis: I think it was my first touchdown I scored. I think that was one thing that really gave me a lot of confidence, just to know I can play at this level. I think that was the biggest point for me, but really anytime I do anything well on the field — especially when it’s with Aaron — I think that’s when I’m really like, “Man, I can do this.”
How difficult has it been to be patient, especially as promising as the preseason was for you?
Janis: Yeah, it’s always in the back of my head, but I know that I’ve got experienced vets in front of me. I can’t just jump out there and expect to score a touchdown. I’ve got to gain Aaron’s trust and gain the coaches’ trust. So I think as time goes, I’ll continue to prove that, and I’ll be able to get out there.
How do you gain that trust?
Janis: Really, it’s just doing the right thing, being where I’m supposed to be and making plays when they come my way. I think that’s the biggest thing I can show them, so when they watch film that sticks out and they can trust me to make that play when it’s game time.
There’s a level of trust you have to earn before the plays do come your way. How do you get to that point?
Janis: It’s putting in the time in meetings. Whether it’s with Aaron and them, if he asks the question you respond with the right answer, just so in the back of his head he knows I’m going to be in the right spot. I think that’s the biggest thing.
What’s it like watching Aaron Rodgers play up close at the level he’s played at?
Janis: He’s pretty incredible. So it’s definitely a cool thing to be a part of.
Have you had a moment when something he did on the field left you speechless?
Janis: I think the one that sticks out in my head is the touchdown he threw to Davante (Adams) in Chicago. It got called back, but I mean, he was rolling out to his right, getting hit and he still throws it back to his left off one foot. To still throw that, I was like, “Wow, he’s pretty good.”
Have you had a “pinch me” moment when you’ve let yourself reflect on what it means to be part of this team?
Janis: I think it was my first day that I even got here, right after the draft. Come in here, seeing the names on the lockers, and then seeing guys like Jordy and Aaron in person. It was like, “Wow, this is really happening.” Just getting to put in that work with them and just realize they’re just regular guys, and they’re just passionate about what they do, it’s cool to be around.
How much do you have your eyes set on being kick returner?
Janis: I mean, special teams is huge, especially being a receiver. We have so many guys. When I’m out there in special teams, I try to do my best while I’m out there, just so they know that I can play special teams.
What do you need to continue to get better at?
Janis: Just things like reading coverages, all those other things that the vets are pretty good at that I’m not used to doing just because I’m coming from Saginaw Valley. We really didn’t have to read coverages too much. Doing things like that, and I think attacking the ball in the air is something I really need to work on. There’s not much separation at this level like there was at Saginaw. I usually had 5 yards of separation. So I think that’s something I need to work on the most, just so that DB can’t make a play on the ball.
So at Saginaw it was just a matter of, “I’m faster than you, and that’s all that matters?”
Janis: For the most part, it was pretty much, “Just run fast and get open.” We did have some plays where you’d have to read if the middle of the field was open or closed, but that’s pretty much it. We never really had checks or anything like that. It was just, play was called, and the quarterback would read the coverage and throw where he was supposed to throw. That’s something we had to get used to.
When you’re learning how to read NFL coverages, what details are you adjusting to?
Janis: In the NFL, they try to show you something, and you know it’s not going to be that. They’ll get to something different. It’s just watching a lot of film, and just kind of not rushing it when you’re out there. Just taking a breath and relaxing a little bit, and just thinking about what you have to do. I think that’s something I have to improve on.
When did you first realize how different it was not being the best athlete on the field every snap?
Janis: I’d say probably the first practice we had. I just kind of realized you can’t do some of the things I used to do. That’s, like I said, DBs breaking on balls and things like that. They’re just that much quicker, and they’re that much faster. It’s having to attack the ball in the air, and using my hands is something I have to work on.
What are your goals for these final two-plus months?
Janis: Well, to me, when I got to this level I knew it was a job, it was something I had to do every day. That’s kind of how I look at it, as a profession. I try to keep that mindset and come in every day to get better. Pretty much, just to get on the field and show that I can make plays and gain the trust of Aaron and the coaches. I think that’s the biggest thing I want to show.
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @ByRyanWood.