Battle for Packers' 5th receiver spot heating up
Jeff Janis discussed the touchdown like it was just another play. He had a couple of yards at the line of scrimmage, a clean release. Then he had 6 points.
Sounds easy enough, but there's something about Janis hitting top gear that has tantalized the Green Bay Packers for more than a year. When Janis flashes his 4.3-second, 40-yard dash speed, it's not just another play. The former seventh-round pick stretches the field like few wide receivers can, quarterback Scott Tolzien said.
Nobody catches Janis once he's gone.
"Janis doesn't look like he's real fast," speedy cornerback Sam Shields said, "but as soon as you guard him, he'll get past you."
There have been glimpses of what that speed could do in the Packers' offense. In his past four preseason games, Janis has caught three touchdown passes longer than 25 yards — including a 26-yard score Thursday night at New England.
It's why Janis was stashed on the 53-man roster when the Packers made their final cuts last season. His potential was too valuable to risk losing to another team. It's also why Janis has a good chance at making the 53-man roster this year, even though his potential has yet to be realized.
With Janis, long touchdowns have become increasingly routine — at least in training camp.
"He was playing a little off coverage," Janis said of Patriots top cornerback Logan Ryan, who he beat Thursday. "I just stuttered a little bit and took off."
Janis isn't the only receiver fighting to make the roster. It's possible the Packers could keep six, but it would be difficult. Depth at other positions — notably running back — could present tough decisions when the Packers make their final cuts next month.
The Packers have receiver depth, too. Ty Montgomery, a third-round draft pick, has added to the talent already in place with Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and Davante Adams. If the Packers stick with the standard five receivers on their roster, they'll likely choose between Janis and Myles White.
White has speed, but he lacks Janis' size. Three inches shorter, almost 30 pounds lighter, he finds other ways to be a difficult matchup.
"He's now in his third season in the same system," Tolzien said of White. "I think he's more comfortable and more confident out there knowing what he's doing, and knowing the guys around him."
After falling to the practice squad during final cuts each of the past two years, White is having his best training camp.
His familiarity with the offense has helped. With a solid grasp of the playbook, White said, he's "attacking the ball" like never before. While Janis still is learning how to master press-coverage, White said his release off the line of scrimmage never has been better.
"I've been able to kind of shield a lot of defenders," White said.
Before Thursday, White was the more consistent receiver in practice. Then Janis burned the Patriots' top cornerback, and White struggled with two dropped passes.
The first came on the 2-point conversion attempt following Janis' touchdown. Tolzien found White open in the end zone, but the ball bounced off White's chest.
"I should've made the catch," White said. "It was a bang-bang play, kind of got lost in a collision, and the ball showed up a little faster than I thought it would be. I had to work around a defender in the slot, and then the outside 'backer or Mike (linebacker) was moving over.
"It was kind of tough, but if I want to be the player I think I can be, I've got to make that grab."
For Janis to be the kind of receiver he thinks he can be, he'll have to master press-coverage. He's still figuring out how to use his speed when a cornerback jams him at the line of scrimmage. It was never challenging at Saginaw Valley State, when he was the biggest, best player on the field.
In the NFL, Janis learned, he no longer can rely on his physical tools. He needs more polish.
"It's getting a lot better," Janis said. "I've been working on my releases and things like that, and reviewing everything in the meeting rooms, listening to the older guys and things like that. Them giving me pointers and stuff, it's getting better."
The competition for the No. 5 receiver job was never supposed to be a two-player race. Jared Abbrederis was expected to factor into the equation, and he still could. There's a long way to go in training camp, but Abbrederis suffered a concussion in the first practice.
It was at least Abbrederis' third documented concussion since starting his college career at Wisconsin. He still hasn't returned.
"He's making progress," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Saturday. "He's still going through the protocol. There's a number of tests you have to go through, and he hasn't completed them."
With Abbrederis out, Janis and White have created some distance. Both are making plays, showing why they belong on the roster.
Janis welcomes the competition.
"It's pretty crazy," he said. "It's like that every year. It's going to be a battle, but I think it's good. It brings out the best in everybody, to be able to make your best plays when they come your way. So it's going to be a battle, but I think it's good for us."
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @ByRyanWood.