In the corner of his eye, Jared Abbrederis saw the gunner barreling at him.
He needed to make a split-second decision. For a receiver who hadn’t touched the football in a game for almost two years, and never on an NFL field, a fair catch was the prudent choice. Abbrederis refused.
His path to Lambeau Field for Thursday night’s preseason finale against the New Orleans Saints was too long, too toiling to not make the most of every play.
“I didn’t really want to fair catch it, my first one,” Abbrederis said. “So I figured I’d just try to make a move on him.”
When the punt hit his chest in the second quarter, Abbrederis broke a tackle. He juked to his right, dodged another tackle. He cut upfield, ran out of a third potential tackle, weaved through two Saints defenders and gained 17 yards.
Then he was disappointed.
“I wish I would’ve taken that one to the house,” he said standing at his locker after a 38-10 win.
Here was the determination that turns a former Wisconsin walk-on into one of the greatest receivers in program history. The drive that helped Abbrederis recover from an ACL tear in his first training camp last year, and a concussion on the opening day of his second training camp.
The Green Bay Packers’ former fifth-round pick wasn’t just happy to be at Lambeau Field for his first NFL game after rehabbing from not one, but two significant injuries. Abbrederis wanted to make a splash.
Earlier this week, receivers coach Alex Van Pelt was asked what he expected from Abbrederis’ return. For a football player who hadn’t played football in since the first day of 2014, there would be natural rust. Physical mistakes are natural. Van Pelt wanted to see how much knowledge Abbrederis retained.
As he walked out of the Packers’ locker room Thursday night, rookie quarterback Brett Hundley stopped long enough to say he was indeed impressed with Abbrederis’ retention.
“He is an amazing receiver,” rookie quarterback Brett Hundley said. “For him to be able to step out on the field today, it was a great opportunity for him. He made the most of that opportunity. He’s an outstanding receiver.
“I love him to death, man. Even when I first got here, he really helped me out. He’s going to have a great career. He’s very smart, football IQ and a great route runner. Sky’s the limit for him.”
Abbrederis finished with just one catch for 6 yards, numbers that paled against his competition. Jeff Janis, who does nothing but catch touchdowns in the preseason, had two receptions for 21 yards and a score. Myles White, who’s hoping to finally be on the right side of the roster bubble, had four catches for 49 yards and a team-high two touchdowns.
Considering he hadn’t played a game since the 2014 Capital One Bowl, Abbrederis’ night could be counted a success. He averaged 11.7 yards on three punt returns. His route running was crisp. On a handful of snaps, he found himself open downfield but failed to catch the quarterback’s attention.
About the only thing that didn’t go right for Abbrederis on Thursday was a muffed punt late in the first half. The fumble was wiped out when Saints cornerback Kyle Wilson ran out of bounds without being forced, a 5-yard penalty.
Finally, some good fortune for Abbrederis.
“Obviously, I’d like that one back,” Abbrederis said, “but it was fun being out there for the first time. I haven’t played a game in a while, so just to be out there was a different experience. It was fun. Took a little bit to get used to, but once we got rolling it was just like old times.”
Whether it’s enough to crack the Packers’ 53-man roster, nobody knows. Abbrederis was asked every which way if he expected to be cut, or not cut. Practice squad, or no practice squad. He opened up only enough to admit that, yes, he thinks a roster spot is a realistic possibility.
He had no interest making any bold predictions.
“I’m not going to go there,” Abbrederis said. “That’s up to the coaches to decide. I wasn’t trying to do this, this and that, or get this many yards, or anything like that. I was just trying to go out there, do my job and have a good time. You let the cards fall as they do.
“Every time you come out here, you expect to play and expect to have a spot. But we’ll see what happens, obviously. That might not be the case, it might be the case. You never know.”
Abbrederis will know soon enough. By 3 p.m. Saturday, NFL teams must have their final rosters cut to 53 players. They’ll have their 10-player practice squads finalized 24 hours later.
It’s natural to expect Abbrederis might have a long weekend ahead of him, but he shook his head. No, he insisted, the past year and a half has been long. Finally, he’s back on the field.
This, he said, is the reward for his hard work.
“Honestly,” Abbrederis said, “I didn’t feel any pressure on me because I know I can’t control that stuff. I was more nervous, just because it was my first game in so long. The nerves got me a little bit, but right before the game and right when we started going, it was just back to normal. I didn’t really feel any pressure because you can’t worry about things you can’t control.
“I’m pretty sore right now, but it was fun being out there. The crowd was awesome, and it was just a fun experience to be out there.”
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