Ryan Wood and Pete Dougherty discuss the first day of Packers' minicamp. USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
GREEN BAY – This was after Jeff Janis made the biggest catch of his life, surpassing what had been the biggest catch of his life three snaps earlier.
After the Hail Mary miracle in Arizona pushed the Green Bay Packers' playoff game into overtime, where they eventually lost.
After Janis, one of three healthy Packers receivers remaining, badly bruised his back falling on top of Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson’s knee in the end zone.
“If I would have had to go back out there (in overtime),” Janis said, “obviously I would have. I don’t know how effective I would have been.”
There Janis sat on the team plane an hour later at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, ice packs wrapped around his waist, when Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers walked up.
For two seasons, Janis desperately sought his quarterback’s approval. It seemed to be the missing ingredient keeping the Packers' impressively tall, strong and speedy receiver on the sideline.
If a quarterback doesn’t trust his receiver, nothing else really matters.
So the most memorable moment of Janis’ first two seasons wasn’t necessarily his game-saving touchdown, or his 60-yard catch with the Packers facing fourth-and-20 from their own 4-yard line. It wasn’t leaping over one of the NFL’s elite cornerbacks with a playoff game on the line, though he hasn’t forgotten the pain in his back.
Perhaps the defining moment came with three words in a brief, one-sided conversation on the team plane.
“Hey,” Rodgers said, “good job.”
Finally, Janis admitted, it felt like he earned his quarterback’s confidence.
“Any time you can get anything out of Aaron that compliments you,” Janis said, “that means a lot. Just because I know that doesn’t come easy. He expects a lot out of us. Any time you can get anything like that, it’s important.
“I think he’s really starting to trust me a little more.”
If not trust, Rodgers’ confidence in Janis showed near the end of organized team activities last week. Sure, it’s only a June practice without pads, but Rodgers gave his third-year receiver a chance to make a play.
Rolling to his left, Rodgers threw the football up for grabs 60 yards downfield. Janis leaped with Sam Shields, the Packers' top coverage corner. He caught the pass after it deflected off Shields’ hands.
Another Hail Mary.
“He seems to have a knack for that,” Packers receivers coach Luke Getsy said.
Rodgers was waiting with a “firm handshake” after the practice rep. More affirmation. Chemistry between the Packers' two-time MVP and seventh-round receiver might have taken time to develop, but Janis believes there’s a foundation.
That doesn’t mean his work is done. Janis talked a lot about consistency Tuesday in his first off-season comments, and there’s a good reason. Consistency is a clichéd buzzword, a crutch every player uses with the media.
With Janis, it might be the most important missing element.
There are two sides of Janis, equal parts intriguing and mystifying. He can flash his 4.3-second, 40-yard-dash speed one play, run a wrong route the next. Janis’ inconsistency was evident during the Packers' first minicamp practice when he sprinted two steps past cornerback Damarious Randall and safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, a pair of first-round picks.
“Outruns them both,” quarterback Brett Hundley said. “He’s fast enough that I trust to throw that ball when he’s not over the top of them, and trust that’s going to beat them deep.”
Only problem was Janis didn’t catch the football. Hundley dropped his pass perfectly into his receiver’s arms. It fell incomplete.
It’s probably best Rodgers wasn’t the quarterback Tuesday, even if reps with the Packers' starting quarterback carry more value. Rodgers was excused from minicamp along with 14 fellow veterans, given the gift of an early vacation. Still, Janis knows, his quarterback will likely see the rep.
“I’m sure he’s going to be watching (practice) on the iPads and what-not,” Janis said. “Even when he doesn’t practice and he watches everything on the iPads, he’ll come up to me and say what you did on certain routes, what to expect.”
What Janis can expect is opportunities to be earned, not given. He knows the value of accountability. The necessity of being reliable.
When friends and family ask why he doesn’t get more snaps – and they do ask, he said – Janis tells them there’s a lot of talent on the receiver depth chart. With five draft picks competing to make the 53-man roster behind Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, jobs could be scarce. Every miscue is amplified.
The Packers will stay patient with Janis through the off-season. Now is the time for mistakes, not October. His raw, physical talent is too great to discard. At his best, Janis has the potential to be a difference-maker on the Packers' offense.
If only he can avoid simple errors.
“The only way you can get consistent is by getting those reps,” Getsy said. “That’s a tremendous opportunity for him to learn from. He’s figuring out how to get from Point A to Point B. Now, the next step is just him finishing those plays. I think he’ll get more of those reps in the preseason, in training camp, and I think all that will help build and grow that confidence.”
It’s Rodgers’ confidence in Janis that matters most. That confidence is growing, Janis believes, ever so slightly. Big plays on the big stage will do that.
Mistakes in practice might be the only thing that can prevent it.
So Janis will finish these next two days of minicamp, focused on the basics. He’ll try to prove his steadiness in training camp, make plays in the preseason. When asked Tuesday, Janis said his relationship with Rodgers has “gotten better” this offseason.
There’s still room to improve.
“He just has a high level of expectation,” Janis said. “So guys that don’t reach that, he’s not sure if he can trust you on the field or not. So just trying to build that trust, and last year, yeah, it helped. But this is a new year, and I’ve got to keep doing it.”
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