SANTA CLARA, Calif. – They call it the scramble drill. By definition, things are going poorly. You don’t scramble in good times. You don’t scramble unless you have to.
In the fourth quarter of the Green Bay Packers' exhibition game Friday against the San Francisco 49ers, Joe Callahan had to.
It was third and 19. Could’ve been a mile. Either way, the Packers needed a prayer. They got an even bigger problem at the snap.
Defensive end Corey Lemonier skirted rookie right tackle Kyle Murphy’s block with little resistance. Safety L.J. McCray sprinted unblocked through the B gap. In an area known for its great escapes, Callahan somehow stepped out of two sacks at the same time.
“I just kind of reacted,” the Packers' rookie quarterback said. “There wasn’t really a plan at that point. Just basically do whatever you can to get out of the situation.”
The plan was to scramble.
Callahan rolled right, dashed toward the sideline. Downfield, receivers tried to improvise. Callahan couldn’t find anybody open. His first target was covered. So was his second.
“Then I saw Geronimo streaking down the field,” Callahan said.
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Geronimo Allison was his quarterback’s third option on the play. Almost 50 yards downfield, he wasn’t an ideal target. Callahan flung the football as far as he could, hoping the Packers could pull off another Hail Mary.
Like he has all training camp, Allison did whatever it took to come down with the ball. By the time he caught it over third-year 49ers cornerback Dontae Johnson, Allison had gained 51 yards.
“Just continue to stay alive,” Allison said. “Just go deep. (Johnson) was already up underneath me, so I just continued to go over the top of him. Just go deep. I saw Joe look my way and launch it in the air. I just tried to make it my play.”
Just continue to stay alive. That’s what Allison has done – despite all odds – through training camp and three exhibitions.
It was the type of play Allison wasn’t supposed to make. Not with his lack of speed. A 4.7-second, 40-yard dash at the NFL combine dropped him out of the draft. No, Allison wasn’t expected to get behind NFL cornerbacks.
He latched on to Green Bay because of general manager Ted Thompson’s reputation for giving undrafted players a fair shot, something that could be tested now.
Allison is on the wrong team to be an undrafted rookie receiver. In theory, the Packers have seven that could make the team, with five of them drafted in the past three years. Allison, it seemed, would be the eighth receiver in the Packers’ pecking order.
Or that was the theory entering camp. Entering their exhibition finale Thursday in Kansas City, it’s hard to determine which receivers might be the odd men out on final cuts.
Because of his size and uncanny ability to keep making plays – nobody has made more in the past month – it’s impossible to give Allison the “odd-man-out” distinction as of now. There’s a lot to be determined, but Allison clearly has won over his teammates.
Maybe Callahan didn’t have a choice but to launch his pass on third and 19, but he never hesitated.
“Tons of trust,” Callahan said. “He’s a big receiver to begin with, and he’s proven himself all summer that he’ll make plays in that situation. So I never second-guessed that situation.”
It was more than one highlight that made Friday night the culmination of an impressive month.
Allison had three catches on five targets for a team-high 78 yards against the 49ers. His first catch was for 10 yards on fourth and 9. His second was 17 yards on third and 8. They came on the same drive, a possession that ended with a touchdown thanks to Allison keeping it alive.
Then came the 51-yard bomb.
At his locker, Allison said his long catch in the fourth quarter felt “real good.” He was down by contact, but sprung to his feet to run the last 19 yards, high-stepping into the end zone. Once there, he gave a fist bump to the stands.
Take that, doubters.
“Me personally,” Allison said, “I don’t feel like my speed is that much of a hindrance. I feel like I’m able to stretch the field any type of way.”
If he keeps doing it, Allison will give his general manager one tough decision on the first Saturday in September.
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