Healthy Janis practices without protective club

Michael Cohen
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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GREEN BAY - The idea that general manager Ted Thompson would keep seven wide receivers on the 53-man roster felt like a line of cars at a drawbridge, with a tollbooth waiting on the other side. But as is so often the case, injuries offered a temporary solution when rookie Trevor Davis hurt his shoulder and fan-favorite Jeff Janis broke his hand.

On Monday, however, the problem resurfaced in its original form.

For the first time since Aug. 13, when he injured his hand in a ball-security drill, Janis went through practice without a club. He wore no protection of any kind and was able to catch passes with the use of both hands.

“Today’s practice felt good,” Janis said. “I feel like I haven’t lost a step, so hopefully I get thrown in there again this week and see what I can do.”

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Now in his third season, Janis had surgery shortly after the injury and missed two weeks of training camp. Doctors inserted two screws to hold the bones together, Janis said, and the early prognosis was four to six weeks of recovery. He returned to the field on Aug. 30, and a club protected his right hand.

“Going through a little bit of adversity makes you a little more grateful when you’re not hurt,” Janis said. “But yeah, I’m just going to try to take off from where I left off.”

The club squashed the notion that Janis, now in his third year, could build off a tremendous playoff performance against the Arizona Cardinals last season, a performance that launched expectations to unreasonable levels for 2016. He struggled through the first few weeks of camp even without the club, and for a moment his grasp of a roster spot appeared tenuous.

But Thompson retained Janis for the very skill set he applied as a clubbed member of the active roster this season. Janis is the Packers’ biggest threat on special teams — both as a returner and on coverage units — so releasing him became as unlikely as it was imprudent.

The club prevented him from returning kicks during the first three games, but special teams coordinator Ron Zook gladly deployed Janis in kick and punt coverage.

“I missed a tackle last week because of the club,” Janis said. “He spun out of it and I couldn’t grab him, so it will be good for special teams hopefully to make some tackles.”

Janis said he also practiced returning kicks after Monday’s practice and would like to reclaim the job he held late last season. So far, Ty Montgomery and Jared Abbrederis have been the primary kick returners for the Packers.

Oddly, Janis said the injury was beneficial for his growth as a receiver, too, where his route running was often criticized coming from the Division-II level. Because he couldn’t catch, Janis poured all of his attention into improving arguably his biggest weakness.

“When I couldn’t do any of the team drills, I’d be down there running routes just to keep my footwork up to date and just keep working on the little things,” Janis said. “ … Especially with the newer things that we’ve been working on this year as far as focusing on footwork and timing with the quarterback, I think I’ve gotten better route running-wise.”

Finally healthy, Janis faces the same challenge Davis, Montgomery and Abbrederis have endured the first three games: playing time. And while the Packers substituted more liberally against the Lions, their pattern of relying heavily on three players — Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and Davante Adams — is something of an unbuckable trend.

But at least now Janis has two hands with which to try.

“I think just being able to play on offense again, the coaches hopefully have that in the back of their head and will get me in the rotation a little bit,” Janis said. “Just in practice today even with Aaron throwing some balls to me and stuff and just getting that chemistry back a little bit and showing him that I’m not shying away from using my hands. I think that’s important too.”

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