Aaron Rodgers looking for WRs he can trust

Tom Silverstein
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) bumps fists with wide receiver Jordy Nelson (87) before the game against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium.

GREEN BAY - Aaron Rodgers would have a hard time throwing a paper airplane in the Green Bay Packers’ locker room and not hitting a wide receiver.

There are nine of them scattered around and a 10th may be added later this week to the practice squad, so accuracy is not necessary. Throw up a Hail Mary and it probably will nail one of them.

On Sunday when the Packers play their season opener at Jacksonville and precision counts, Rodgers will have five of those receivers at his behest and it will be up to him to decide which one should get the ball.

The return of Jordy Nelson from a torn ACL suffered a little more than a year ago helps make those decisions a little easier. But really it’s unrealistic to think the veteran receiver will step on the field Sunday and immediately be the guy who caught 98 passes for 1,519 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2014.

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Rodgers has thrown far more to Randall Cobb, Davante Adams, Jared Abbrederis and Ty Montgomery this summer than he has to Nelson. And so, the most salient question might be, which of those players is going be a bigger part of the game plan than the other?

It’s a question that is going to carry through the entire season.

“We’ve got three guys who played a lot of football around here, our top three,” Rodgers said of Nelson, Cobb and Adams. “And then the next guys who have really contributed on special teams; that’s why they’re on the roster.

“So those guys need to dive into those roles. It’s a long season, though. A lot of stuff can happen.”

Two of the seven receivers on the 53-man roster — rookie Trevor Davis (shoulder) and Jeff Janis (hand) — won’t be catching balls from Rodgers this week. But as the season goes on and they become healthy, they’ll be competing for spots in Rodgers’ line of sight.

There isn’t much similarity among the seven receivers except in the case of Cobb and Montgomery, two compactly built slot guys with the ability to play halfback. Adams is a big, physical possession receiver; Abbrederis is a tall, slender slot receiver with less speed than the tall, slender Davis; and Janis is Nelson-sized with better speed than the veteran and a fraction of the route-running ability.

Starting this week against the Jaguars, who have three 6-foot-plus cornerbacks each weighing 200 pounds or more — Davon House, Jalen Ramsey and Prince Amukamara — the Packers receivers are going to have to create separation a lot better than they did a year ago when Nelson was absent.

Are Cobb and Montgomery better options than Abbrederis? Is Adams needed to muscle through bump coverage? Does Cobb need to work out of the backfield more to avoid double-teams?

“All these guys are going to have an opportunity to make plays throughout the season,” Rodgers said. “If it’s not your week in Week 1, doesn’t mean the ball isn’t going to find you in the second and third and subsequent weeks.

“These guys have to lock in as ‘Tae (Adams) really did a couple of years ago where he’d go stretches in games without getting a lot of throws his way and then (had a) big game against New England and then big game against Dallas in the playoffs. That’s kind of an example of what it looks like to be focused and prepared every single week.”

Rodgers said he doesn’t know what the identity of this year’s offense will be, but with the addition of pass-catching tight end Jared Cook, there could be fewer receivers on the field, similar to when Jermichael Finley was used out wide and in the slot. Coach Mike McCarthy used a lot of double tight end formations during those years.

But he also has had years when the receivers were the focus, such as in 2007 when he had his Big Five personnel package.

“I think it’ll constantly be a flow,” Nelson said of how the receivers will be used. “Different guys do certain things better than others. To me, it’s similar to years ago when there were so many of us and we’d rotate guys in and out depending on what was going on.

“Everyone just needs to continue to grow, continue to compete. Just because camp’s over and we’re in the season, nothing’s settled. It’s a constant week-in and week-out battle for playing time.”

Abbrederis, who started last season on the practice squad and caught 15 passes for 180 yards in 12 games (including playoffs), said it has been a competition all camp and will remain one all season.

If one player isn’t doing his job, not only is he in danger of losing playing time, practice squad receivers Geronimo Allison and Herb Waters are auditioning daily for their chance to get on the 53-man roster.

“We’ll see how it goes,” Abbrederis said. “It’s the first week. This league is a competitive league and you’re always going to have to compete for whatever it is, whether it’s playing time, a spot, passes. That’s how it is.”

And when it’s game time, performance will be the bottom line.

“It’s comforting,” Rodgers said of having so many receivers, “but we need to see production. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got the depth, those guys need to make plays on the field. Other than Abby there hasn’t been a lot of consistency after those top three with the guys making a ton of plays on the field.

“Jeff obviously had a good last half of the last game, but we need to see consistency from those guys if they want to see the field. Until then, it’s going to be guys that you trust.”

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