GREEN BAY – Each day of training camp, there seems to be another young receiver stepping up for the Packers on the practice field.
So it probably shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone that the receivers under the top three of Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and Davante Adams came to play in Thursday night’s preseason opener against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Nine of the 10 receivers who suited up for the Packers caught at least one pass. The only one who didn’t, second-year receiver Trevor Davis, instead returned a punt for a 68-yard touchdown to put the Packers on the board in the second quarter.
The competition has been fierce since the start of the offseason program, providing a constant reminder of what’s at stake in the quest for a spot on the Packers’ 53-man roster.
Working almost exclusively in three-receiver sets during the second half, the Packers took a long look at several of those prospects against the Eagles, giving reserve quarterbacks Joe Callahan and Taysom Hill the freedom to work the ball downfield.
“We’re so deep in our room and it’s so competitive, how else are you going to find out what guys can do unless you give them those opportunities?” said rookie fifth-round pick DeAngelo Yancey, who led the Packers with three catches for 67 yards. “So I think it’s a great thing, airing it out. It’s a great chance to see what you got and evaluate guys.”
The Packers expected the receiver competition to be hotly contested this summer. This year’s corps feature seven draft picks and two former undrafted free agents (Geronimo Allison and Max McCaffrey) who spent time on the active roster last year.
Green Bay didn’t dress quarterback Aaron Rodgers or Nelson against the Eagles, but gave backup quarterback Brett Hundley veterans Cobb, Adams and tight end Martellus Bennett to work with during the first two series.
Once they exited, the offense deployed fourth-year veteran Jeff Janis, Davis and Allison before turning things over to Yancey, seventh-round pick Malachi Dupre and a collection of intriguing undrafted rookies.
Almost all of them made their presence felt. Janis, now in his fourth season, caught the Packers’ first touchdown of the night when he snagged a sizzling 20-yard pass from Hundley, who initially caused the defender to bite on a pump-fake.
“We were talking and I ran a slant earlier in the game and they kind of bit on it hard,” Janis said. “It was something he thought we would be able to audible to, so that’s what he did and we were able to execute it pretty well.”
McCaffrey, the son of Pro Bowl receiver Ed McCaffrey, played 28 snaps against the Eagles, almost doubling the amount of action he saw last year with Oakland in three preseason games.
The 6-foot-2, 200-pound receiver led the Packers in receiving with three catches for 60 yards through the first 58 minutes before Yancey caught a 46-yard pass in a late two-minute drill.
Praised for his route-running in camp, McCaffrey’s shining moment came on a 34-yard pass from Joe Callahan at the start of the fourth quarter.
“Joe was scrambling out of the pocket so it was just the scramble drill,” McCaffrey said. “I just tried to get open, find an alley for him to toss it in the window. He made a great pass, as well.”
To close the night, undrafted rookie Michael Clark did what he’s done throughout camp in using his 6-foot-6 frame to haul in a 7-yard touchdown catch off an end-zone fade.
A former basketball player at St. Francis (Pa.), Clark transferred to Marshall to play football as a senior. While admittedly new to the game – Clark said it was only the second NFL game he’s watched – the lengthy receiver hasn’t had any problems getting noticed on the field.
He just needed a little help finding the stands after his touchdown grab with nine seconds remaining in the contest.
“I almost forgot to Lambeau Leap,” Clark said. “I haven’t arrived. I still have a long way to go, but this is definitely a good position I’m putting myself in. I just have to keep continuing and keep going.”
There was one scare in Thursday’s game against the Eagles. Dupre was stretchered off the field after enduring a hit from Philadelphia safety Tre Sullivan early in the fourth quarter.
While Dupre has entered the concussion protocol, his early prognosis has been good. He had feeling in all of his extremities afterward and was allowed to return to the team Friday.
The Packers have shown they’re not averse to keeping receivers if they prove themselves worthy of a roster spot. Last year, they held onto seven on the opening roster although Ty Montgomery later was converted to running back.
Green Bay will have one additional spot at their disposal on cut-down day, with Allison slated to be placed on the reserve list due to a Week 1 suspension.
Who will claim the spots behind the Packers’ big three will be determined in the coming weeks, but all of those in contention agree consistency likely will determine who prevails.
“It gives us a lot of confidence, especially with the younger guys,” Janis said. “Coming from college with it being your first game, it just makes you take a deep breath and maybe-I-can-do-this type of thing, and we were able to spread the ball around. We have a lot of talent in our room.”