Jared Abbrederis didn’t want to crack a smile. This was an awkward situation. For almost two full years, the former Wisconsin star sought validation on an NFL field. It finally happened Sunday when the former fifth-round receiver caught his four passes for 57 yards.
Something else also happened Sunday. The Green Bay Packers lost at home to a Detroit Lions team that entered Lambeau Field with the league’s worst record.
It wasn’t easy for Abbrederis to balance to the two extremes. Nobody was celebrating after an embarrassing loss. Still, Abbrederis had plenty of reason to celebrate.
“I’m all about the team,” Abbrederis said. “It doesn’t really matter. Yeah, you can say, ‘He got his first catch.’ It was exciting when it happened, but if I didn’t have a first catch or anything and we won the game, I would be more happy with that. I’m more of a team player. Stats don’t really mean much to me.”
Stats might not matter much, but these were memories. In 20, 30 years, Abbrederis probably won’t remember the score of Sunday’s game. He’ll most certainly remember his first NFL catch, a 15-yard grab over Lions cornerback Quandre Diggs on third-and-1.
Finally, Abbrederis admitted, his first professional football production “felt good.” Why shouldn’t it? There was a time when it didn’t look like Abbrederis would get this chance. His rookie season was wiped out by a torn ACL in training camp last year. Almost the entirety of his second training camp was spent recovering from a concussion during the first practice.
Abbrederis got one game — the Packers’ preseason finale against the New Orleans Saints — to show general manager Ted Thompson what he could do. It was enough to earn a job, but not on the Packers’ 53-man roster. Abbrederis was on the practice squad through September before being promoted Oct. 3 before the Packers’ game at the San Francisco 49ers. He waited another six weeks before finally catching a pass.
“It was great seeing him finally getting an opportunity,” offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett said.
It wasn’t a perfect day. Abbrederis’ last catch — a 32 yarder that moved the Packers down to the Lions’ 4-yard line — knocked him out of the game. Lions safety Glover Quin gave Abbrederis a hard shot to the ribs, forcing him to fumble out of bounds.
Abbrederis, slow getting up after the play, wouldn’t say Monday whether he has broken ribs. It’s unclear whether he’ll be available when the Packers travel to the Minnesota Vikings this weekend. Regardless, it’s clear Abbrederis has established himself as a player the Packers count on for production, apparently surpassing fellow second-year receiver Jeff Janis in the process.
“He’s really been coming on strong for I’d say a good four weeks,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “I don’t think there’s been a day where there wasn’t a route or something very instinctive.”
McCarthy said he “really likes” Janis’ development. Whatever the case, his progression hasn’t been enough to earn consistent snaps. In his only significant playing time this season, Janis had two catches for 79 yards against the San Diego Chargers on Oct. 18. The former seventh-round pick flashed potential game-breaking speed, but Janis has played only four offensive snaps in the three games since.
All three games were losses in which the Packers’ offensive struggled mightily, averaging 18 points per game. It’s puzzling why Janis hasn’t seen the field, even as other young players like Abbrederis have gotten their opportunity.
“I understand that his snaps and opportunities may not be what Jeff would like or feel he’s earned,” McCarthy said, “but he’s playing very well on special teams. He’s doing some really good things.”
The difference between Abbrederis and Janis is obvious.
Abbrederis excelled in the Big Ten, where he became one of the most productive receivers in Wisconsin history: 202 catches, 3,140 yards and 23 touchdowns. Janis, a high school running back, played receiver in a simplified offense at Division II Saginaw Valley State.
There’s more that goes into playing receiver than catching footballs and running fast. Route precision is important. So is reading the coverage and being able to make rapid adjustments in real time. So far, Abbrederis has shown more. Janis has not.
“There’s the lack of experience,” McCarthy said. “I think any time something pops in front of Jeff, he hasn’t seen it before. It’s something that he has to learn from and get used to, which is normal because we’re asking him to do a lot of things that he’s never done if you look at his history and how he’s played in college, and what he’s been asked to do here.
“I feel that those times are coming on offense, too. So we’ll see what happens. Game planning’s part of it, and how we utilize our players and matchups and all those types of things. But Jeff’s definitely an ascending player.”
If injuries linger, Janis’ time may come this week. Abbrederis’ ribs could force him to stay in Green Bay. Rookie receiver Ty Montgomery hasn’t played since the Chargers game because of a sprained ankle. Janis has been healthy, but he’s still waiting for the opportunity Abbrederis received Sunday.
There’s no secret what Janis must do to get more snaps. Bennett said Abbrederis simply has been more consistent than Janis in practice. Those reps have a direct connection to who earns playing time.
“Big believer in you practice how you play,” Bennett said. “… You like to build that trust, that consistency, that confidence in what you do, in practice.”
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