While Packers fans wait for Jeff Janis to earn an opportunity in the passing game, the speedy second-year wide receiver is making his mark in another important role.
Janis and rookie cornerback Quinten Rollins have been serving as “gunners” on the Packers’ punt coverage team. Their job is to get past press coverage at the line of scrimmage, fly downfield and target the returner.
“It takes speed, it takes quickness, it takes strength and it takes toughness,” Packers special teams coordinator Ron Zook said. “That’s a tough job when you’re getting doubled a lot. … You gotta be fast, you gotta be strong, you gotta be tough and you’ve got to be able to put it together to get off the line on those guys.”
Janus, at 6-foot-3, 219 pounds with 4.42 speed in the 40, fits that criteria.
“Jeff is a tall, lanky guy, he has a lot of body strength,” Zook said. “There’s a lot of will involved in just getting off the line and getting down there. It’s important that they take that position seriously and it’s going to be critical this week (against the Rams and dangerous returner Tavon Austin).”
Meanwhile, Janis is working to win the confidence of quarterback Aaron Rodgers and assume an expanded role in the Packers’ passing attack. The only wide receiver ever drafted out of Division II Saginaw Valley State, where he set school records for receptions (241), receiving yards (4,274) and receiving touchdowns (46), Janis has the potential to help fill the deep-threat vacancy created when Jordy Nelson suffered a season-ending ACL tear.
Janis, 24, provided a glimpse of his ability during the 2014 preseason when he caught two touchdown passes and returned a kickoff for a TD. But he played in only three regular-season games, catching two passes, and has been targeted only once this season.
“We’re slowly integrating him into the process," Packers wide receivers coach Alex Van Pelt said. “He can stretch the field. He’s a big, physical receiver. … It’s not easy to play in this system; it’s difficult, but he’s making strides.”
Janis spoke with Press-Gazette Media about his development and his goals:
Did you ever expect to be playing someday for the Packers when you were at Saginaw Valley State?
Not at first. I just went there to keep playing football because I liked it. It wasn’t until my junior year when I was putting up some good numbers that people started to talk about it. And then my senior year, scouts started coming to practice and that’s when I was like, “All right, this a possibility.”
Your speed (4.42 In the 40) is a big part of your game. How did that develop, were you always fast?
Pretty much. I’ve always been one of the faster guys through high school and college. I ran track in high school, and once I started growing in college, in my second year, that’s when I started putting on more weight and getting stronger, and took another step toward getting faster.
Besides speed, what are the most important elements for you in becoming a good NFL receiver?
Route-running technique. There are a lot of guys who aren’t very fast who play receiver, but they get themselves open. That’s something I need to work on and get better at. In college, I was pretty much just running fast and running by everybody. When I first got here that was the biggest thing I noticed: All the DBs are pretty fast guys, you can’t just run by ‘em so you’ve got to do some other things to get open.
As far as being an NFL receiver, how important is the classroom work?
Especially here, that’s very important, with Aaron. He expects you to be perfect. He doesn’t really like mental errors so you’ve got to be where he wants you to be every single time and be on the same page with him. He’s the type of guy, he knows physical errors are going to happen – dropping balls and things like that. But he doesn’t like mental errors, so just making sure you’re where you’re supposed to be every play.
You got targeted against the Chiefs on a sideline pass. What’s it like when you hear your number called in the huddle?
Aaron knows I’m kind of a faster guy so he was excited about it and wants to hit me on a couple of deep balls. He wants to give me a shot so I just go out there and run as fast as I can.
Where does your speed come in on special teams play?
At gunner, that’s something I’ve never done, so I’m still learning and getting better at that. Running down on kickoffs, beating blocks and things like that.
Has Jordy Nelson been helping you guys out even though he’s out for the year?
Yeah, he’s still available whenever we have any questions, he’s still in our meetings, still pointing things out in practice and in game film. He’s definitely still present and helping us out any way he can.
What do you like to do away from the field?
I’m big into hunting, I grew up doing it. I like to bow hunt. And in the wintertime I like to ice fish, that’s probably my favorite type of fishing. Last year I went down to Winnebago and did a bunch of ice fishing there and when I go home (to Tawas City, Mich.) after the season I go on Lake Huron. I’ve got a shanty and everything, the whole set-up.
firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @Stucourt