GREEN BAY - It wasn’t the first time Jordy Nelson has caught a pass from Aaron Rodgers since tearing his anterior cruciate ligament last preseason, but the Green Bay Packers' elite receiver-quarterback duo had its most extensive on-field work together Thursday.
Nelson, running full speed, caught passes from Rodgers on an assortment of 15-yard out routes and shallow slants during Thursday’s organized team activities at Clarke Hinkle Field. While three other Packers quarterbacks worked on individual position drills, Rodgers worked with Nelson off to the side during a period midway through session.
There were roughly 10 routes in all. Nelson cut left and right, exercising his surgically reconstructed right knee. How did his knee feel afterward? Nelson offered just one word.
“Great,” he said.
Nelson called Thursday “another step” in his ACL recovery. He worked with Rodgers during individual player workouts earlier this spring, but Thursday was their first time working on the route tree during OTAs. Their workload also increased Thursday compared to last month, Nelson said.
Nelson won’t participate in 11-on-11 team reps until training camp, he said. The Packers want to be smart with him this offseason. But he made it clear his knee indeed feels great 10 months after surgery.
“If there’s a game Sunday,” Nelson said, “I’m playing.”
Nelson said his on-field work with Rodgers isn’t scripted, but he will rotate certain focal points to work on with his quarterback moving forward. Some days will feature his releases from the line of scrimmage. Other days will target different routes.
“Today, we just did the slants and the cuts and stuff like that,” Nelson said. “We’re just rotating and mirroring what they’re trying to do when they go to individual. They work on certain routes certain days, so we’re just trying to make sure we’re getting them all in.”
For good reason, Rodgers and Nelson will start to have more one-on-one time during practice as the offseason transitions into preseason.
Speaking with reporters last week, Rodgers said there will have to be a re-acclimation period with his top receiver. Nelson said Thursday the bigger transition will be for Rodgers. As a quarterback, Rodgers will have to get a feel for how Nelson moves on the football field. After more than a year away, it’ll be like relearning how to ride a bike.
“I’m just running my route,” Nelson explained. “I think it’ll be more on Aaron of understanding. Because we all try to run our routes similar, but we’re all different. We’re all different stride lengths and everything. We all have our own nuances. So he has to get a feel for my break points and stuff like that.
“To me, I’m running my route, and obviously I’ll have to get used to how quick his ball comes out and how fast it is. I think we’ll get there.”
Considering their familiarity with each other, their timing should return quickly.
Before his torn ACL wiped out Nelson’s season, he had spent the past seven years catching passes from Rodgers. He steadily worked his way up the receiver depth chart, becoming Rodgers’ top target over the past few years.
Nelson was a second team All-Pro in 2014 with the best season of his career, catching 98 passes for 1,519 yards and 13 touchdowns. His chemistry with Rodgers — as seen through their famed back-shoulder fades — is almost unrivaled in the NFL.
Yet coach Mike McCarthy said their reps together this offseason will be critical to recapturing their rhythm this fall.
“It’s very important,” McCarthy said, “for Jordy Nelson to catch the football from Aaron Rodgers. I think that’s something that can’t get lost in his coming back. Jordy’s human. Aaron throws the football differently than the other quarterbacks that we have here. So it’s important for him to get that timing. To see that football come out of his hand or get his head around when the ball is in the air, all those types of things.
“So it was good to see that process get started today.”
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