Jim Owczarski and Olivia Reiner unpack the overall performances from the 2018 Packers' wide receivers and tight ends. Olivia Reiner, PackersNews
GREEN BAY – It’s never too soon for a new beginning, and J’Mon Moore is counting on that just one season after being drafted.
The wide receiver’s rookie campaign with the Green Bay Packers wasn’t a total wash — he was healthy and did appear in 12 games. But Moore tumbled down the depth chart as the season progressed, falling behind fellow rookies Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown, along with free agent Jake Kumerow.
At the end of his two-catch season, Moore put the onus on himself for why he didn’t get on the field for regular reps. He admitted he didn’t grasp the “small things” last season regarding assignments and audibles and building trust with Aaron Rodgers.
Moore said that realization gave him motivation for 2019.
“I’ve still got that hunger and that fire built up in me because I know what people might think just based off of first-year ups and downs,” he said. “I’ve still got that fire up underneath me. I’m still hungry as hell and I gotta eat, so that’s the plan.”
Now, at the onset of his sophomore season, the soon-to-be 24-year-old out of Missouri feels he gets a chance to start from square one under coach Matt LaFleur, but with the benefit of knowing what an NFL season is like.
“I feel like a fresh start to something that I’m familiar with,” Moore said. “But just a new beginning. I’ve got a year under my belt so I know what to expect with what the expectations are, but it’s a fresh start, clean slate. It’s a clean slate for everybody, which is the best feeling. Especially for me. It’s just another opportunity. A lot of people don’t get that.”
LaFleur said during the Packers’ rookie minicamp that young receivers need to learn the formations first, and then the route concepts within them — giving them the chance to be deployed anywhere along the line of scrimmage. It’s a system Moore feels he’s capable of pinning down.
“I can play in any offense,” he said. “For me, it’s just me getting it down, knowing what I can do, knowing my assignment and what I can do in it. I like what I’m getting out of it, I like what I’m seeing. It’s all great concepts. Coach knows what he wants and what he’s doing so we just gotta go out there and execute. That’s all it is.”
Better fit for fullback
Brian Gutekunst and Mike McCarthy created a minor stir at the 53-man roster cutdown last September by eschewing the fullback position in favor of more tight ends and wide receivers. The decision wasn’t really addressed or considered again until late October when they signed former Tampa Bay and Cleveland fullback Danny Vitale to the practice squad. They then added another fullback, Malcolm Johnson, to the practice squad in late November.
But the active roster remained free of a fullback until Vitale was signed to the 53-man unit Dec. 1. McCarthy was fired the next day, but it didn’t change how the offense was going to be run. Vitale played just 19 offensive snaps on the season and was targeted twice and caught one ball for two yards.
Moving into 2019 it seems like the fullback — and perhaps Vitale — will have an opening for a greater role in LaFleur’s offense.
“As soon as I heard that (LaFleur was hired) and saw the background and everything like that, I just knew there was a lot of opportunity out on the table,” Vitale said. “Not only just for me but for tight ends as well. Just anybody who is looking to get more reps, you have that opportunity to do that in this offense because they like to use a lot of different personnel groups and get a lot of different mismatches from different spots.”
The 6-foot, 239-pound Vitale, who has just eight career catches and zero rush attempts since his rookie season in 2016, hopes those opportunities include some options in the passing game. At Northwestern he caught 135 passes for 1,427 yards and 11 touchdowns.
“Throw me out there in some different situations so I’m able to kind of show them what I can do more than maybe somebody else at this position, the fullback position; being able to kind of do almost what I did in college, too, in catching the ball out of the backfield,” Vitale said of the upcoming organized team activity and minicamp period.
“Or the slot if they want to try that. This is the time right now where they can experiment a little bit especially considering we had the minicamp earlier and we had a couple weeks earlier than most teams, so it’s nice to kind of give them the chance to experiment a little bit.”
Keeping the QB clean
Rookie guard Elgton Jenkins hadn’t had the chance to meet his new quarterback yet when the Packers held rookie minicamp earlier this month, but he was eager to get his first opportunity to see Rodgers on the practice field Monday.
The Packers opened their organized team activities this week, with their first open OTA session on Clarke Hinkle Field coming Tuesday. For Jenkins, who has seen Rodgers on film plenty, the chance to block for the two-time MVP is something he’s eagerly anticipating. Jenkins, the Packers’ second-round pick, called Rodgers a “dynamic” quarterback.
“Aaron, he can move out the pocket,” Jenkins said. “He can get the ball down the field out the pocket, in the pocket. Everybody around the league call him the 'GOAT,' so I just gotta hold up to my part and keep him clean.”