Jared Abbrederis' rookie season started like something only Hollywood could contrive.
The hometown kid and former walk-on at the University of Wisconsin drafted by the Green Bay Packers, the team he grew up idolizing from nearby Wautoma. If that wasn't enough, he was the first Badgers player to be selected by the in-state NFL team in more than a decade.
Abbrederis was an instant hit. Fans thundered in applause the moment general manager Ted Thompson mentioned the 6-foot-1, 195-pound receiver's name when discussing the Packers' 2014 draft class at the annual shareholders meeting on the eve of training camp.
The fanfare carried into the first week of training camp, when every reception sparked a reaction. In need of a reserve receiver and returner, Abbrederis made an early bid for a roster spot before feeling a twinge in his knee one day in practice.
At first, the fifth-round pick thought he just torqued the knee, and he returned to practice. Two days later, Abbrederis discovered he'd torn an anterior cruciate ligament. His season was over.
"For me, I'm a pretty religious guy — I know everything happens for a reason," Abbrederis said at the start of organized team activities Thursday. "God has a plan, so you just have to take it with a grain of salt and work through it, do your best and just know that he's got you where he wants you."
Abbrederis was one of four players to go down with ACL tears last season, joining offensive linemen Don Barclay and Aaron Adams, and outside linebacker Andy Mulumba on season-ending injured reserve. The Packers cut Adams in April, but the other three participated in some capacity at practice Thursday.
The Packers are taking things slowly with Abbrederis, who stretched with his teammates and did some individual drills before sitting out of the team periods. He stayed in Green Bay all offseason to get treatment on his surgically reconstructed knee and continue his rehab.
The former WIAA state hurdles champion spent a lot of days running 200-yard sprints by himself. Once individual player workouts started, Abbrederis was near the front of the pack. It was his first clue that he was close to form.
It's been eight months since team doctor Patrick McKenzie performed the surgery and Abbrederis is feeling pretty good. He's still holding out hope he'll take part in team periods later in the offseason program.
Until then, his goal is centered on strengthening the knee so he can cut sharply at the end of his routes.
"I think there's always going to be a little bit (of soreness) the first couple months, especially as you start coming back and doing more," Abbrederis said. "You're obviously going to have some soreness and things like that, but it's manageable. When I'm out on the field, I don't really feel it too much. So I feel pretty good."
Abbrederis kept in close contact with Barclay and Mulumba during their recoveries. All three could relate with the injuries happening within six weeks of each other. They even made a little competition out of it, asking each other, "How far does your knee bend?" and "How is the strength coming?"
Like Abbrederis, Barclay (with a knee brace) and Mulumba participated in some individual drills Thursday before sitting out 11-on-11s. Packers coach Mike McCarthy said after practice all three have been doing well "for quite some time" and he had "no long-term concerns" about any players on the roster.
Quarterbacks/receivers coach Alex Van Pelt says he's learned a lot about Abbrederis since he stepped into his new position in February, including that the receiver is an avid hunter. Abbrederis even brought his new position coach some venison sausage recently.
On the field, Van Pelt is looking forward to seeing what the 24-year-old has to offer once he's fully cleared.
"(Abbrederis) was a guy who stood out last year when he came in before the injury," Van Pelt said. "I thought he did some really good things for us in the slot, natural route-runner, good hands. He has the ability to separate.
"I'm glad to get him back out there right now. He's not full-go yet, but we're easing him in to that. Anything in individual periods he does with us, all of the IPW work we were all together with him. He's coming on, but we're bringing him on slowly."
As hard as Abbrederis has worked to get back on the field, he won't be able to let up once training camp starts this summer. He'll be competing for a spot at arguably the deepest position on the roster.
The re-signing of Randall Cobb and selection of Ty Montgomery in the draft's third round likely fills four spots on the receiver depth chart. Montgomery will have to earn his keep, but Thompson never has cut a rookie drafted earlier than the fourth round.
So the final one or two spots could come down to who survives out of the group of Abbrederis, 2014 seventh-round pick Jeff Janis, Myles White and a slew of undrafted rookies. The Packers spent $22,000 in signing bonuses to sign five receivers during the college free-agency period, including Texas A&M-Commerce receiver Ricky Collins.
The competition doesn't scare Abbrederis. He embraces it.
"It's awesome," Abbrederis said. "The competition is good for our team, good for each other. When you got guys competing, it makes it better. I'm excited about that. We have some good guys around the team and we're excited for it."
Growing up a little less than a two-hour drive from Lambeau Field, the decision for Abbrederis to stay in Green Bay throughout his recovery was an easy one. It helped him stay locked in and made him feel a part of the team.
From the moment he tore his ACL, Abbrederis said, the injury was only a minor setback. Now, he's looking forward to putting everything he's learned to work.
"Definitely just learning the offense," Abbrederis said of what he took away from the year off. "Obviously, I'd still learn it playing, but I didn't really miss a beat there. Getting all the signals, getting the playbook down, all that kind of stuff was definitely a plus.
"Watching those guys how they run routes and pick up from Cobb, Jordy (Nelson), from Davante (Adams), all those guys who are out there helps out."
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