Adams, Rodgers could be key to more dynamic offense
The Green Bay Packers ensured their place as one of the NFL's most potent offenses when they re-signed Pro Bowl receiver Randall Cobb this offseason.
However, it's the development of receiver Davante Adams and tight end Richard Rodgers that could really take things to another level in 2015.
Each spring, the Packers look for the rookie class from the previous year to take a significant step. The early returns have been promising for the 2014 draft class, which produced more than 3,200 offensive and defensive snaps combined last season.
As promising as the Packers' offense has become for returning all 11 of its preferred starters in 2015, Adams and Rodgers provide the most room for growth. The two combined for 58 catches, 771 yards and five touchdowns, and have shown improvement throughout the offseason program.
Adams, a second-round pick a year ago, has drawn heaps of praise from his coaches and teammates for the jump he's made. In fact, coach Mike McCarthy singled him out during Tuesday's minicamp practice as the youngster who has taken the largest leap.
"If you want a clear illustration and example of a first-year player taking a jump in his second year, you just saw it here the last four weeks," McCarthy said. "I think he's been tremendous throughout the OTAs. And he's got more in front of him, too, so I think that's what's exciting.
"I think Davante has done a great job in the strength and conditioning. He's been really, really good in practice throughout this deal. Davante, if you wanted me to pick an MVP or an all-star, he would definitely be atop the list."
Adams turned 22 on Christmas Eve, but already has gained the respect of his quarterback. When asked recently about the former Fresno State standout, Aaron Rodgers said Adams "has humongous upside and he's starting to reach that upside."
His athleticism was on full display this offseason when a video of his 360-degree, between-the-leg dunk went viral. As cool as it was, it's how he translates that ability to the football field that impresses Aaron Rodgers the most.
Adams wasn't even expected to be the No. 3 receiver entering last season, but took over that role when Jarrett Boykin went down with a groin injury. Adams never relinquished it, playing a little more than 70 percent of the offense's total snaps.
There were a few stretches when his catches were quiet, but his potential flashed at critical times. He distinguished himself in performances against New England (six catches for 121 yards) and Dallas (seven catches for 117 yards and one touchdown).
Once the season was over, he put a lot of focus on his strength and conditioning. Unlike last year, when most of Adams' work was geared toward draft preparation, he focused on the details of the offense and vowed to come back "bigger, stronger, faster."
So far, he's accomplished that in the coaches' eyes.
"He has a year under his belt," said offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett, who was Adams' position coach last season. "Anytime you go through an offseason, he has some experience. But we have to continue to grow and build on that. I think he understands that. Davante coming in last year, you knew what type of player he could be. It's just a matter of time."
With Jordy Nelson still limited after offseason hip surgery, Adams has been featured heavily with the first-team offense. Given the extra reps, he's shined throughout the portion of the offseason program open to the public.
A frequent target of Aaron Rodgers during organized team activities, Adams caught a touchdown pass off a crossing route to close a team period Tuesday. Shortly thereafter in the locker room, Adams was informed of the praise McCarthy was throwing his way.
"It means a lot," Adams said. "It means that my work and my approach to practice and meetings and everything is not being ignored. They're taking note of everything I'm doing, which means a lot to me. I want it to be more than that. That's the first step. Now, I want to be the MVP of the minicamp and training camp and then go out there and do some damage."
At tight end, there's still plenty of snaps available despite the addition of Alabama-Birmingham's Kennard Backman in the sixth round of last month's draft. Once again, it's expected a bulk of playing time will be vied for between Richard Rodgers and veteran Andrew Quarless, who Aaron Rodgers also has credited for the strides he made last offseason.
Rodgers won the starting job coming out of camp a year go with his hands, but lost it after three games because of his blocking. He earned more playing time as the season wore on, including a season-high five catches in the regular-season finale against Detroit and another four in the NFC title game.
Packers tight ends combined for 51 catches for 651 yards and six touchdowns last year. They have plenty of receivers, but could benefit from a threat in the middle of the field and are banking on Rodgers to hopefully become that.
"I think Richard's taken that natural step," McCarthy said. "You look at the way he performed Week 1 compared to how he performed the last stretch of the season. Now you have a chance to go back and look at all the video, it's a lot more natural for him. He's not thinking about what he's doing, he's obviously focusing more on his technique and fundamentals and his awareness of what the defense is doing."
The Packers were the league's highest-scoring offense last season with more than 30 points per game. The re-signing of Cobb means Aaron Rodgers will have his top three targets together in Nelson, Cobb and Adams for at least another three seasons.
The two Pro Bowl receivers are coming off career years, but everyone is in agreement there's room for Adams to take on an expanded role in 2015. If this offseason has been any indication, there's no reason why both Adams and Rodgers couldn't make a larger impact in Year 2.
"You always want your guys to come in and contribute as rookies, but then certainly in the next year even more," Bennett said. "That's a big part of how we've done things in Green Bay for quite some time now. We expect those guys to come in and continue to develop, and make a big jump to help put us in position to win championships."
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