GREEN BAY - Leaning against his locker Monday, Randall Cobb didn’t want to relive 2015. He knew the stats. The lack of production.
He also knew the reasons.
“I had some injuries, yes,” Cobb said, still not revealing the full breadth of medical issues that tainted his fifth NFL season.
You may remember the Green Bay Packers slot receiver sprained his shoulder’s AC joint during a preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles. He returned for the 2015 opener in Chicago and never missed a game. Outside the locker room, it was easy to expect Cobb would be the same game changer from 2014.
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What nobody knew was just how long his injury lingered. Through the “majority” of the season, Cobb said, he could hardly work out his upper body. Lifting weights isn’t ideal with a bad shoulder.
Cobb’s strength waned. His weight dipped. He wasn’t the same player.
So Jordy Nelson’s return — the way Nelson stretches the field, opening space underneath — isn’t the only reason Cobb is expected to be more productive in 2016.
“I think the biggest thing with Randall Cobb,” McCarthy said, “is he’s healthy. Randall played the whole season last year injured. He was hurt, I think in the Philadelphia game, in the third preseason game last year, and he fought that all year. So he’s healthy.”
Cobb won’t make excuses, but the film showed how much his shoulder injury affected him. He regularly struggled to beat press-man coverage off the line of scrimmage, a byproduct of the injury.
Without Nelson on the field, Cobb and his fellow receivers mostly faced press-man defense.
Cobb wanted to better absorb contact with and without the football, so he added weight this offseason. When camp started, Cobb said, he was roughly 195, 196 pounds. In the past, Cobb’s ideal playing weight was around 192, 193.
Last season, he dipped below 190.
“I don’t feel like I’ve lost any speed, any quickness,” Cobb said. “I feel like I move pretty well with it. I’ve been able to go in the backfield a little more and take a little more pounding, been able to absorb some of those hits a little better. And just overall fitness.
“The more strength I can have, the better.”
He already has shown his added strength on the field. After a slow start to the exhibition season —Cobb had no catches in the first two weeks — he found his rhythm with quarterback Aaron Rodgers on Friday in San Francisco.
Cobb had three catches for 30 yards, including a 6-yard touchdown when he cut upfield and ran through two defenders’ tackles for the final yard.
“I was teasing him,” Rodgers said, “that he wouldn’t have scored that touchdown if he was 190, but at 196 he’s getting up into the end zone now.”
The Packers made Cobb the NFL’s highest-paid slot receiver before last season, re-signing him to a four-year, $40 million contract, because of the variety he provides McCarthy’s offense. He’s best in the slot, but can also line up as a running back. Few receivers offer the same versatility.
It’s why Cobb’s role in the offense remains important, despite most of the offseason attention being focused on Nelson, running back Eddie Lacy and new tight end Jared Cook.
“His ability to get in space and make plays from any position on the field,” McCarthy said. “That’s really part of the Randall I know as a play caller, and when you build a game plan, that you love about him — his ability to break, and he’s just so smart with the football, too. He’s a very instinctive player, understands defenses, very detailed in his route running and really everything that you do.”
It’s worth remembering Cobb’s production when the Packers had their full complement of players. He caught 91 passes for 1,287 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2014, earning his first Pro Bowl bid.
A year ago, Cobb’s 79 catches only generated 829 yards and six touchdowns. Half his touchdowns came in a Week 3 game against the Kansas City Chiefs. Most glaring, he averaged almost 4 yards fewer per reception.
There were factors outside his control, but Cobb doesn’t want to discuss them.
“I don’t need to say anything,” Cobb said. “My play will speak for it, hopefully. If not, then people will keep talking all they want.”
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