Packers receiver Jordy Nelson sits down with USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin to discuss his rehab from a torn ACL injury and his season on the sidelines. (Jan. 19, 2016) Kyle Bursaw | USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
Jordy Nelson would stand on the field and catch footballs. No running. Absolutely no cutting. Just pitch and catch with the backup quarterback.
It was his pregame routine down the stretch this season. Nelson, out with a torn ACL, started traveling to road games when the Green Bay Packers visited the Minnesota Vikings in late November. On their next road trip, Scott Tolzien asked if he could toss Nelson a few “spot” throws.
“He would tell me what route he wanted,” Nelson said, “and I would go stand where that route would end. So I wasn’t trying to do anything crazy. I didn’t even run out there, even though I could. Just playing catch, pretty much. He was more going through his reads, and I would just be where I would end up on a route.”
A game of catch wasn’t much, but it gave Nelson some connection to football over the past two months. He missed the game after tearing his ACL during the Packers' second preseason game in August. Gradually, he’s returning to his role as the Packers’ star wide receiver.
Nelson expects to be ready to fully participate in the Packers' training camp this summer. He told USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin his return to full football activity is “up in the air,” but he wants to participate in at least a limited fashion during organized team activities this spring.
It could be similar to last offseason, when recovery from hip surgery prevented Nelson from doing much during the spring, just enough to get ready for training camp.
“The knee feels great,” Nelson said. “It’s right on the path where we want to be, if not ahead. We’re doing everything we can do right now and just waiting for different timetables, continuing to move forward. But we’re right where we need to be, and we look forward to getting back to practice and training camp.
“Now, how much I’m going to be doing (during OTAs) is up to everyone else, probably. We’ll find a nice medium between all of us, but we’ll definitely be ready for training camp and on.”
Nelson said he’s able to run on his knee. He hasn’t sprinted full speed, primarily because there’s no need to. He said doctors don’t want him to run and cut for “another few months,” but he feels his knee is strong enough to do more than he’s allowed.
“I probably cheated a little before doc really wanted me to (run),” said Nelson, referring to Packers team physician Dr. Patrick McKenzie, “but he made a timetable of when he wanted it and what-not. We’re moving right along.”
Nelson said his top priority this fall was getting healthy. He would attend practices and meetings, providing pointers to younger teammates whenever he saw fit. “Coach Jordy” was a common refrain in the locker room this season.
Still, rehab consumed most of his time inside the Packers facilities. He showed up every day, putting in the work.
“My No. 1 role was to get healthy,” Nelson said. “It kind of sounds somewhat selfish, but we needed to make sure I was ready to go next year. So we took care of that, and once we got done with that stuff, I was able to go to practice and help out and be a part of it. Just encourage. If I see something, say it. If not, then just be there and have fun and hang out with the guys.”
Nelson has impressed both teammates and coaches with his approach to rehab. Fellow receiver James Jones said he expects Nelson to return “a lot sooner” than expected. Coach Mike McCarthy expects Nelson to be “better than ever” when he is back.
It would be a difficult task. Nelson had a breakout season before tearing his ACL. He finished with 98 catches for 1,519 and 13 touchdowns in 2014, earning his first trip to the Pro Bowl and a second-team All-Pro selection.
Without him, the Packers offense hardly compensated for the lost production. Jones led the Packers with 890 receiving yards and eight touchdowns, while Randall Cobb had 79 catches for 829 yards and six touchdowns.
Nelson agrees with his coach. He’ll be 31 next season, on the fringe of his prime. He already has thought about his goals for 2016, although there really only is one.
“Stay healthy,” Nelson said. “That’s my one and only goal every year. If you’re healthy, you’ll be all right.”