Silverstein: Getting an early read on staying power of Packers' rookie receivers

Tom Silverstein
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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GREEN BAY – Following the Green Bay Packers’ 31-17 victory Thursday over the Tennessee Titans at Lambeau Field, the home locker room at Lambeau Field was a telling place for the team’s three drafted wide receivers.

At the end of the row of lockers where the receivers dress, fifth-round pick Marquez Valdes-Scantling was surrounded by reporters answering all kinds of questions about his breakthrough performance (five catches for 101 yards and a touchdown). Two days earlier, after dropping a perfectly thrown deep ball from quarterback Aaron Rodgers in practice, he had sat alone at his locker.

Green Bay Packers wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling (83) attempts to catch a pass against Tennessee Titans cornerback Rico Gafford (40) in the fourth quarter of an NFL preseason game at Lambeau Field on Thursday, August 9, 2018 in Green Bay, Wis.

“It was definitely a great day for me, but it’s all about consistency,” Valdes-Scantling said after the game. “That’s what this league is about. There’s a lot of great talent in this league and so you just don’t want to be not doing it all the time. You want to keep building on it, keep gaining trust from everybody.”

Midway down the row of lockers sat fourth-round pick J’Mon Moore, in full uniform, with headphones cutting him off from the rest of the world. When a reporter asked to talk to him, he shook his head and waved him off. He ignored other requests to interview him. Only after a public relations staffer suggested to him it would be in his best interest to talk after good and bad performances did he speak.

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Moore was the leader in the clubhouse among the rookies at the start of camp, but of late he has been inconsistent and against the Titans he dropped a sure touchdown pass from fellow rookie Tim Boyle. He caught just three of the seven passes thrown his way for 27 yards.

“Just got to put it behind me,” Moore said. “Go on out there, digging deeper, putting this behind me. That's it.”

A couple of lockers away from him, sixth-round pick Equanimeous St. Brown was encouraged but trying to keep his emotions in check after a four-catch, 61-yard performance that came on the heels of his best week of practice. Passing game coordinator Jim Hostler said earlier in the week that after a slow start to camp, St. Brown was starting to show some of the potential the personnel department saw in him.

When asked if he had finally gained some footing after a slow start, St. Brown acknowledged there had been a learning curve for all the rookies when they arrived in the spring but seemed to indicate that was a long time ago.

“I think the whole camp I’ve been doing good,” he said.

Wide receivers, in general, are a temperamental bunch and over the years it hasn’t been uncommon for veterans – apart from maybe James Jones, Jordy Nelson or Davante Adams – to dress quickly and leave the Packers locker room before reporters enter after a lousy performance.

It’s hard for players with such a high skill level to accept failure. But those who do it the best usually stick around the longest.

The Packers are learning a lot about their three rookie receivers – all three of whom are probably going to make the 53-man roster and at least one of whom will be expected to play an active role this season.

Besides the 4.37-second 40-yard dash he ran at the combine, the 6-4, 206-pound Valdes-Scantling offered something the Packers really liked coming out of South Florida, which is a good temperament. His comments after the game were reflective of the way he’s approached things since the day he arrived.

It was obvious from his performance Thursday night that his mistakes during practice have been learning experiences and not death blows to his confidence.

“We’re human,” Valdes-Scantling said. “There’s going to be good days and there are going to be bad days. Nobody ever is going to be perfect. I think I learned that a long time ago. Learned that from my dad: Never get too high, never get too low.

“Even on the greatest days or the worst days, you can always come down and always go back up.”

Green Bay Packers wide receiver J'Mon Moore reacts after dropping a pass against the Tennessee Titans on Thursday night at  Lambeau Field.

Moore’s performance and reaction, meanwhile, should be of concern to the Packers. During his junior year, he was benched because of a dozen drops. He regained his starting position and had a much better senior season, which helped him restore some of his draft value.

The Packers will be watching closely to see how he handles his current tough spell. Resisting interviews after a poor performance isn’t a character flaw, but it can speak to the players’ willingness to view the game with a wide-angle lens.

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Moore was obviously crushed by his performance, so now it’s critical for him to bounce back and have a good week of practice. In the NFL, there’s no time to dwell on a drop because another opportunity could appear at any time.

”This game can be changed in one or two plays,” quarterback DeShone Kizer said. “No matter how many different times you’re out there and things aren’t going your way at the receiver position, there’s going to be opportunity to break off and make a big play.

“It’s all about clearing your mind, stepping back out there and taking it rep by rep.”

Green Bay Packers wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown (19) stiff arms Tennessee Titans defensive back Damon Webb (35) in the fourth quarter of an NFL preseason game at Lambeau Field on Thursday, August 9, 2018 in Green Bay, Wis.

St. Brown certainly doesn’t lack confidence in any way. His refusal to publicly see things the same way Hostler did might have just been bravado. Where there is trouble is when a player gets the message from a coach and doesn’t listen to it.

The fact St. Brown is playing as well as he is, suggests he’s doing fine.

If the rookies want an excellent example of emotional evenness, they only need to look across the receiver room at Jake Kumerow. It’s taken the former UW-Whitewater player three years to get a legitimate shot at making a 53-man roster and along the way he has learned much about the NFL.

Aside from Adams, Kumerow has been the most consistent receiver in camp, and while he still has a long way to go to clinch a roster spot, his play Thursday night was an example of how well he controls his emotions.

Kumerow admittedly played poorly early in the game and wasn’t getting open, but in the flash of a second during the fourth quarter, he gained an edge on his defender and beat him for a 52-yard touchdown. Earlier in the game, he was mad at himself for his sloppiness, but he has trained himself to forget about it.

“I just try to keep driving that train straight,” Kumerow said. “If you have a bad day, wash it, live in the now. You can’t live in the future; you can’t live in the past.  A few plays out there I was bummed out because I didn’t run my route very well or I didn’t get open on one or two.

“I’m upset about it, but you have to flush it and keep on playing,”

Through the first 17 days of camp, the rookies have been up and down.

You can come to all the conclusions you want about them based on their first NFL live action, but remember this: It isn’t their last performance that matters, it’s their next.

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