On the first play of the Green Bay Packers’ team drills Thursday — the very first play — Aaron Rodgers’ throw to Jeff Janis was intercepted.
The pass was behind Janis, which gave cornerback LaDarius Gunter the angle on the ball. But judging by Rodgers’ reaction, Janis ran a bad route.
Yeah, the guy who couldn’t get on the field last year because of poor route running apparently ran another bad route Thursday. What's up with that? Is he still not getting this?
And if you want to know why it matters so much, Gunter’s interception would have been a touchdown. That can be the difference between winning and losing a game.
But this is exactly what the offseason is for. The Packers should be throwing to Janis again and again to see his mistakes and whether he learns. They can’t treat him like they don’t trust him, as they did last year. They need to let him botch a play and go back to him for more.
Maybe they’ll find out he’s just not good enough, at least to fit into their top-four receiving rotation. But the bet here is if they push him, if they force-feed him and don’t bench or ignore him after a mistake, he’ll beat out Davante Adams for their No. 3 receiving job and add an element of speed their offense needs.
Janis has almost every advantage on Adams physically. He’s 2 inches taller (6-feet-2⅞ to Adams’ 6-0⅞) and a little bigger (219 pounds to 215). He’s significantly faster (4.42-second electronic time at the 2014 NFL scouting combine to Adams’ 4.56 seconds) and outperformed him on all combine tests save the vertical jump (Adams’ 39½ inches to Janis’ 37½).
The difference is, Adams went to a college (Fresno State) with a sophisticated passing game and caught 233 passes in two seasons there. Janis faced lesser players (Division II Saginaw Valley State), and though he put up good four-year numbers he basically ran only two routes: post and go.
So for all his physical talents, Janis came into the league with limitations. Some are still there.
But just imagine the difference for Randall Cobb and new tight end Jared Cook to have a second deep threat outside with Jordy Nelson. Adams isn’t that guy. When the Packers drafted Adams in the second round in 2014, they thought he’d make plays downfield by jumping over defensive backs. His low average-per-catch as a rookie (11.7 yards on 38 catches) and again last season (9.7 yards on 50 catches) suggest otherwise.
With Nelson back from an ACL tear, I’m sure Rodgers can put up plenty of points with a possession receiver as his No. 3. But for the Packers to be a truly dynamic offense, and to threaten even the best defenses they’ll face, they’ll need more speed on the field. You have to think general manager Ted Thompson drafted fifth-round rookie Trevor Davis (4.42-second 40) with exactly that in mind.
I can’t say for sure whether Janis will be that guy. Only two offseason practices have been open to media. The interception was the lone throw to him that I saw Thursday in 11-on-11. That’s not much to go on.
Maybe he’s a good special-teams player and that’s it. But last year he did enough in the three games in which injuries forced him onto the field (San Diego, at Minnesota and in the playoffs at Arizona) to think he’ll make plays that Adams can’t.
Janis wasn’t in the locker room after Thursday’s OTA practice, so I didn’t get the chance to talk to him about the interception in practice, or what he’s been doing to improve as a route runner.
But Nelson was around. Nelson developed slowly as a 2008 second-round pick, though still much faster than Janis. He said it took until training camp his third season to feel like he’d made a breakthrough with Rodgers.
“It takes reps,” Nelson said. “For everyone. That’s going to be all in practice and in the film room. There are questions that get asked in the film room, and the way you answer those makes a difference. And the way you practice on a daily basis makes a difference. It’s all about reps, and it’s reps with Aaron, not just reps on the field. Every rep counts, but reps with Aaron weigh more.”
I’m sure there’s a hint of what's been hindering Janis in there. Always be prepared for meetings. Treat practice snaps like a game.
But it works both ways. The Packers last year kept playing Adams and throwing him the ball even when the results weren’t there. He got chance after chance after chance. Janis has physical talent that Adams doesn’t. Will they give him the same benefit of the doubt now?