Pete Dougherty and Aaron Nagler try to read the tea leaves on what Mike McCarthy's plans are for Aaron Rodgers and look at an embarrassing backup QB moment. (Aug. 16, 2017)
GREEN BAY – If you were charting all the receptions during Green Bay Packers' training camp, the leader wouldn’t be Jordy Nelson or Randall Cobb or Davante Adams.
It likely would be Max McCaffrey.
“Every day in practice he’s making plays,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said.
Last training camp it was Geronimo Allison who emerged out of a group of young receivers and earned Rodgers’ attention. Allison didn’t make the final cut, but he was signed to the practice squad and then elevated to the 53-man roster in Week 8.
The 6-2, 200-pound McCaffrey has the bloodlines to be an NFL player, but he has been forced to enter through a side door, not through the first round like his brother, Christian, or the third round like his father, Ed.
Max wasn’t drafted coming out of Duke in 2016. He signed with Oakland and took part in their training camp but was released on the cutdown to 75.
He went almost the entire rest of the year out of football until the Packers called and signed him to their practice squad Dec. 20. They saw enough of him in the next four weeks to sign him to the 53-man roster as an emergency option for the NFC Championship game.
Though McCaffrey was inactive, he made an impression.
The only problem was it wasn’t big enough to keep general manager Ted Thompson from drafting receivers DeAngelo Yancey in the fifth round and Malachi Dupre in the seventh. Given that Nelson, Cobb and Adams are fixtures, Allison would have to play himself out of a job and Jeff Janis is too valuable on special teams to cut him, McCaffrey faces a tall task.
“It’s always tough not to think about that stuff, but at this point, while I’m here, I’m here,” McCaffrey said. “You kind of do your job and that’s the reality. I know what my job is and I try to go out and be the best I can at it.”
The toughest challenge for McCaffrey has been adapting to a pro-style offense. In Duke coach David Cutliffe’s spread scheme, there aren’t options for each route based on the defensive coverage.
As McCaffrey put it, it was about running to a spot on the field as fast as you can.
“Here it’s a lot slower paced and you want to really focus on your route running during the route,” McCaffrey said. “So adjusting to that pro style was tough at first, but I’m just trying to improve each day.”
He does have a pretty good resource in his father Ed, who caught 565 passes for 7,422 yards and 55 touchdowns during a 13-year career that included stops with the New York Giants, San Francisco 49ers and Denver Broncos.
His brother, Christian, a Heisman Trophy runner-up at Stanford last year and now a member of the Carolina Panthers, makes a good training partner, too.
But during the offseason, McCaffrey went to someone he was sure knew the offense and was open to helping young receivers. Coaches can’t have contact with their players during the dead periods in the offseason, so McCaffrey asked Adams to help him learn the finer details of the offense.
“His willingness to learn is the biggest thing,” Adams said. “He’s texting me, asking me to send him clips from last year, releases (ways to get off the line of scrimmage) and things like that. He’s just a student of the game.
“And you can see it really means a lot to him out there, and the details are refined in what he’s been doing. If he keeps that up, he’s going to put himself in pretty good position.”
Practice Wednesday was a pretty typical one for McCaffrey.
In the one-on-one drills, he beat rookie Donatello Brown on an in-route on his first turn and then followed it up with a double move on his second turn that caused Brown to almost stop in his tracks and McCaffrey to fly by for what would have been a long touchdown in a game.
“We’ve been running a lot of moves similar to that so we were trying to fake a different route on that one,” McCaffrey said, downplaying the move. “A lot of it is just game tape and learning when DBs are going to bite on which routes.
“And we play with these guys all the time so it’s nice to know their tendencies.”
The rest of the practice, McCaffrey did what he usually does. He caught a first-down pass in front of rookie cornerback Kevin King and another first-down toss in the flat from quarterback Joe Callahan. In the 2-minute drill, he caught an 11-yard pass from Taysom Hill.
If he’s had a drop during training camp, it wasn’t obvious. His hands have been like glue. He caught only three of the seven balls thrown his way against Philadelphia a week ago, but one was for a 34-yard gain and another for 14 yards.
McCaffrey’s going to have a hard time beating out Allison, the speedy Trevor Davis and the physical Yancey for a roster spot. His speed is good (4.46 seconds in the 40-yard dash), but his strength isn’t (nine reps on the bench at his pro day).
“I’m not worried about it,” McCaffrey said. “That’s down the road. I take it day to day. And I’m on the Green Bay Packers. I love being here. I’m just trying to help this team.”