All receivers want the ball. It’s in their DNA.
Randall Cobb, the Packers' second-round draft pick, was blunt about it at Kentucky. Cobb’s appeal, however, did not fall on deaf ears. He actually gave his coaches and teammates reason to listen, and not just because he was so nice about it, asking in that good-teammate, unselfish sort of way.
His coaches and teammates listened because he spent his college career eating, sleeping and breathing offensive football and, when it comes to X’s and O’s, the former quarterback turned Mr. Everything knows a little something.
“We’d be in there at 10 o’clock at night as a staff and Randall would pop in and listen to us game plan,” said Tee Martin, passing game coordinator and receivers coach at Kentucky this past year. “He’d be a part of it. He was always around.”
As a result, he was always involved, critically, in the Kentucky offense.
Martin often put him in the slot because Cobb understood the protection schemes and knew when to break off his route as a “hot” receiver.
With certain running plays, Cobb was inserted as a “Wildcat” QB to run them because, for example, if a three-technique defensive end was in position to blow it up, he knew exactly what to audible to.
Cobb even held for field goals because he was the perfect guy to execute a fake, which he did against Southeastern Conference rival Florida, throwing a touchdown pass.
“He did everything but kick the ball,” Martin said, almost chuckling at the thought. “In terms of game-planning, there was no limit to what we could do. It was like having an offense with two quarterbacks on the field at the same time.”
Martin first met Cobb at an elite-level prep QB camp when Martin was working for Nike and Cobb was looking for a Division I program willing to give a 5-10 quarterback a chance. Martin was impressed with simply “the way he looked at you when you coached him,” never knowing he would actually become his coach for his final collegiate season.
Or that he would be laughing years later at one of those beg-for-the-ball moments. Last October, at home, Kentucky was trailing South Carolina 28-10 in the second half and had nothing going. Martin finished discussing some routes with the receivers on the sidelines and, as he turned to leave, Cobb followed him.
“I was a former quarterback and you’d hear receivers all the time – ‘I’m open, give me the ball,’” said Martin, who directed Tennessee to a national championship in 1998 (with Packers veteran Chad Clifton as his left tackle, by the way) and also played six seasons in the NFL. “It wasn’t that. He wasn’t complaining. He’s not that kind of guy. He just said, ‘I want the ball.’”
He got it in the “Wildcat” on third-and-1 and ran for 18 yards, helping to set up a touchdown. He got it on fourth-and-1 for 12 yards, leading to another touchdown. Then he caught a 5-yard pass on third-and-2, a 7-yard pass on first down and a 24-yard touchdown pass on fourth down with 1:15 left. For good measure, he ran for the two-point conversion.
In all, he touched the ball 10 times on the three scoring drives that fueled the rally for a 31-28 win.
“He had times where he came to us and said, ‘Coach, I want to play some corner,’ and I wouldn’t doubt if we put him at corner that he could go out and be one of the better corners in our conference,” Martin said. “He’s just that kind of football player. He’s one of those kids when you were growing up and everybody was picking a team, you wanted to pick him first.”
The Packers picked Cobb to see what he can do in the return game, too. Cobb’s return stats weren’t all that dynamic last year, but Martin – who also coached the punt-return team – said there wasn’t much Cobb could do about it.
After he averaged 12.8 yards per punt return in 2009 and then ran one back 50 yards for a score in the second game of 2010, teams went to rugby-style punts and other gimmicks to keep him from getting the ball. His punt-return average dipped to 7.8. He also shared kick-return duties with a teammate at times.
Martin is intrigued to see what Cobb can do as a returner in the NFL because he always felt when Cobb got a clean catch, good things happened.
“He’s not going to be a Devin Hester, 4.2-in-the-40 guy, but he’s a strong runner,” Martin said. “He’s safe in terms of fielding it and he makes good decisions back there.”
As Cobb joins a receiving corps that already includes Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, James Jones and Jordy Nelson, running back punts and kicks may be the best way early on for him to satisfy his need for the ball.
Even if it’s not, the Packers won’t have to worry about Cobb.
“I know Chad Clifton and Scott Wells, they’re good buddies of mine, and he will fit right in with those guys,” Martin said of his fellow Tennessee alums. “He’s not going to be a rookie that bucks the system and the veterans have to mold him and get him on the right page. He’s going to come in the room and it’s going to feel like he’s been there for four years.”
All that talk about wanting the ball was more good-natured than it sounds, Martin said, and it simply stemmed from Cobb’s intense desire to win. In that respect, Green Bay was the right team to draft him.
“Going to a team that just won a Super Bowl, you don’t want to change the chemistry too much,” Martin said. “I’ve been in places that have gone to the Super Bowl or won a national championship, and a guy or two changes and you don’t have the same feel when you step in the huddle.
“Randall won’t change the whole chemistry. The Packer way is kind of how he does things. They’re going to continue to do things the way they’ve done it, the way that won them the Super Bowl.”
For more feature stories on the 2011 draft class, click here.