KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Three days ago, Jared Abbrederis had to stop himself midsentence.
He was talking to teammates after the Green Bay Packers final camp practice Tuesday afternoon when relief washed over him. The receiver too fragile to stay healthy in his first two NFL preseasons finally made it through camp in one piece. No injuries.
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Then Abbrederis stopped. He remembered Thursday night’s final exhibition at the Kansas City Chiefs.
“I had to go knock on wood,” Abbrederis said. “I’m like, ‘I’ve got two more days.’”
There Abbrederis stood late Thursday night, tucked into a nook inside Arrowhead Stadium’s visiting locker room, the smile on his face permanent. He could talk about it now, finally official. Preseason was over, and Abbrederis still had his health.
It wasn’t the only reason for him to be pleased. In the midst of the Packers deepest and fiercest position battle, Abbrederis didn’t know if he needed a good, final audition to survive final cuts for the first time in his career.
Sure couldn’t hurt.
“It’s a lot better than going out and laying an egg,” Abbrederis said.
No egg in Kansas City. Just yards. He caught two passes for 49 yards, including a diving 40-yard reception. He had 71 yards on five punt returns, including a 42 yarder that started near the left sideline and ended when Abbrederis lowered his shoulder into Chiefs punter Brad Colquitt near the right sideline.
Abbrederis was selected in the fifth round of the 2014 draft specifically with games like Thursday night in mind. His value on special teams makes him a commodity. Yet Abbrederis couldn’t have breathed comfortably – and still might not be completely safe – despite a strong camp.
Over the next 24 hours, general manager Ted Thompson has tough decisions to make with his receiver depth chart. There are eight legitimate candidates vying for seven spots. A receiver who deserves to make the Packers roster will either be cut or traded.
Because of Abbrederis’ restrictions – he lines up almost exclusively in the slot – the Packers could have considered him a redundancy on a roster with Randall Cobb and Ty Montgomery. He boosted his roster chances Thursday night, to the point it’s hard to see the Packers cutting him.
“You can’t be worrying about numbers here and there,” Abbrederis said. “Just trying to make it so everybody does well. If one guy does good, it pushes you to do better. That’s kind of the way I’ve taken it all camp. Competition brings out the best in you, and we’ve got a great receiving core. So that’s been exciting to be a part of that.”
It’s been refreshing to stay on the field, Abbrederis said. He missed most of his first two training camps with injuries. A torn ACL ended his rookie season early in camp two years ago. Last year, a concussion knocked him out until preseason’s final week.
A weight lifted off Abbrederis this summer, he said. After bulking up over 190 pounds entering camp, Abbrederis was better able to absorb hits. Without breaking down, Abbrederis was able to show what he can do.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers said he was “really proud” of Abbrederis, describing it as a “great” camp for the third-year receiver.
“I think the biggest thing for him,” Rodgers said, “has always been his availability. Because his talent is eminent. When he's on the field, he's tough to guard. He makes a lot of plays, he catches the ball very well, runs great routes. It's never been about that. His talent is NFL-level talent, and he has the opportunity to not only make plays but to do it consistently beyond the field.
“The biggest difficulty has always been his availability, being able to stay on the field through his injuries, concussions and stuff.”
The Packers’ patience with Abbrederis has revealed how they feel about his potential. They could have moved on from their fifth-round pick multiple times in the past couple years, but stashed him on the practice squad.
By the end of last season, Abbrederis was one of three healthy receivers remaining in the Packers divisional playoff loss at the Arizona Cardinals. He caught four passes for 55 yards.
Nothing was guaranteed to the former Wisconsin star – yes, Abbrederis plans to be at Saturday’s game against LSU – when camp began this year. One more injury could’ve signaled the end of his time in Green Bay.
Instead, he became one of camp’s biggest surprises, not merely because Abbrederis put himself in position to survive cuts, but because he stayed healthy long enough to give himself a chance.
“It’s frustrating when you get injured,” Abbrederis said, “and you don’t have the opportunity to be on the field, and you really leave it up to chance. When you’re out on the field, at least you have a body of work and you feel good about that whatever way it goes. I’m real happy to make it through camp healthy, and we’ll see what happens.
“Just gotta keep working on my body, make sure I’m ready to go each week. That’s the most important thing.”
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