Subtle reliability puts Packers WR Geronimo Allison in mix for breakout season
GREEN BAY - First, Geronimo Allison saw a clean pocket. He thought he might see the football instead. It was fourth-and-1, and Allison was open. He separated from his defender on a shallow hitch, but quarterback DeShone Kizer was surveying the other side of the field.
So Allison improvised.
With a clean pocket, Allison knew he had enough time to go deep. He also saw the safety follow Kizer’s eyes across the field, leaving a hole in coverage. So the Green Bay Packers receiver sold the hitch route, then turned upfield. It was a bold decision, going for six points when a single yard would do.
Except by the time Kizer finally saw Allison streaking down the left sideline, he could have practically dropped a pass into Lake Michigan.
“As the ball was kind of hanging in the air,” Allison said, “I was like, ‘Come on, drop down.’ I kind of wanted to attack it, but just trusted it. Let it go ahead and float on in there. Perfect timing, good ball, made it happen.”
Allison made a lot happen in camp. His 31-yard touchdown early in the Packers' preseason finale at Kansas City was just one example. He entered the summer with a lead in the competition to be the Packers' third receiver, but hardly a lock on the job.
He enters the regular season leaving no doubt.
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If there’s a Packers offensive player primed to break out this fall, Allison might be the best candidate. You may have missed his rise. Allison, not unlike his game, is subtle but steady. In a league of juke moves and one-handed catches, reliability doesn’t get as much attention.
It sure goes a long way with quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
“I've always had a lot of confidence in him,” Rodgers said. “He's a great teammate, he has a great professional work ethic, he's prepared. He knows the offense really well, and that's the starting point of any type of trust, is the mental part.
“So I expect him to be in the right spot and to run the routes the right way and if he's open, he'll get the ball.”
There were signs before this offseason that Allison could emerge in the Packers' offense.
The touchdown at Detroit in 2016 when, with an NFC North title on the line and Lions linebacker Tahir Whitehead draped over him, Allison dug out a low, perfect pass from Rodgers for a fourth-quarter touchdown. The 72-yard catch-and-run last September when, with a third-and-10 midway through overtime against the Cincinnati Bengals, Allison got wide open down the left sideline to seal the win. If Allison makes a big play Sunday night against the Chicago Bears, it won’t be his first.
But Rodgers goes back even further. When did his trust in Allison start to grow? From the start, he said.
“In the first game he played,” Rodgers said, referencing the Packers' trip to Atlanta midway through the 2016 season, “he scored a touchdown.”
Allison hasn’t been perfect in his first two seasons. Fans surely haven’t forgotten his fumble last year in Carolina, a play that officially ended the Packers’ unlikely attempt to claw out a playoff spot. Neither has he. “It fueled me into the offseason,” Allison said. Each rep, it was stuck in the back of his mind.
“That play,” Allison said, “it wasn’t anything that I did wrong, besides not finish. So going into the offseason, finishing that play, I told myself, ‘Make sure you finish everything.’ Finish the route, finish the catch, and we wouldn’t have been in that predicament. So that was my coaching point, my teaching moment to myself, was just finish that play.”
He gets a chance to officially put the fumble behind him Sunday night. He’ll have a regular role in the Packers' offense, something earned and not given. Undrafted out of Illinois two years ago, Allison entered the NFL with an uncertain future. He had good size at 6-3 and 196 pounds, but was too slow (4.67 40) to stretch defenses.
Allison has learned how to compensate for his lack of sprinter’s speed. Cornerback Kevin King, who covered him in camp the past two years, said Allison has the lateral quickness of a smaller receiver.
“Sometimes for the taller guys,” King said, “or guys with his build, they aren’t really too quick. But he’s hard to get your hands on, and he works so hard. He’s always, like, every time you go against him in camp, you’re like, ‘I know he’s going to give me a rep. I know he’s going to come at me.’ With a guy like that, it’s like, man, you’ve got to be on your A-game at all times.
“Maybe a guy who’s never guarded him before, you go up to the line and think, ‘OK, I can get my hands on him or whatever,’ just from looking at him. But then he comes up to you, you throw your hands on him, and you’re like, ‘Oh, (expletive).’”
Allison had big shoes to fill this offseason, stepping into the vacancy left after Jordy Nelson was released. Certainly, it will take much longer for Allison to build the type of chemistry Nelson shared with Rodgers. But King said he has noticed a similar work ethic, and also a knack for always being in the right place.
He also processes the game at a high level. Take that 31-yard touchdown in Kansas City. It wasn’t the six points Allison appreciated most. It’s what the play could set up in the regular season.
The next time the Packers are in a fourth-and-1 situation, the defense knows Allison could go deep.
“Getting that on film,” Allison said, “was something important for us. Trying to give our opponents something to worry about, and something to respect.”