GREEN BAY – Aaron Rodgers first has to trust a receiver. Then he’ll throw it to him.
That’s why it was so important for Jeff Janis during offseason workouts to take advantage of the extra snaps he was getting with the Packers’ No. 1 offense in Jordy Nelson’s absence.
While Nelson rested his surgically repaired hip during OTAs and minicamp, the second-year pro Janis was on the field with Rodgers more than he’d ever been.
When Janis concluded a two-minute drill in an open practice with a diving TD catch of a Rodgers laser on fourth down, it was clear the Saginaw Valley State speedster had taken another step in his transition from Division II to the NFL.
“Now it’s a completely different world,” Janis said, comparing this year to his rookie season of 2014, when he joined the Packers as a seventh-round draft pick. “It’s really starting to slow down for me. I’m starting to see things a little differently, and it’s coming a lot easier.”
Much of that progress had been made last season. Head Coach Mike McCarthy said this offseason that in the latter stages of 2014, Janis was ready to step in and play.
It just turned out, with fellow rookies Davante Adams and Richard Rodgers both emerging as regular pass-catching threats at roughly the same time, Janis wasn’t needed. He was eager for his chance, though.
“It was a little frustrating, but I just had to trust in the coaches and what they wanted me to do,” he said of being a gameday inactive 15 times in 18 games. “I just tried to show up every day and learn as much as I could. I just tried to get better. That was the only thing I could focus on.”
He worked on his route running by watching the veterans, and he kept his nose in the playbook. Janis joked that he studied last year more than he did in college, learning the offense and all its details.
That translated to getting in better synch with Rodgers as offseason workouts rolled around.
“He wants us to be mentally on the same page,” Janis said. “He knows physical mistakes are going to happen, dropped balls and things like that, but mental errors are unacceptable to him. I think that’s where I’m really trying to take a step.”
Janis will enter his second training camp with just as big a fight on his hands to make the roster as last year. Nelson, Randall Cobb and Adams are the entrenched top three at wide receiver, so there are only two or perhaps three roster spots available.
Janis and Jared Abbrederis were drafted in the late rounds in 2014, while Ty Montgomery was added in the third round this year. The undrafted rookie crop also includes receivers with impressive credentials, such as Texas A&M-Commerce’s Ricky Collins.
“Training camp is going to be tough, but it was tough last year,” Janis said. “I missed two weeks. I was worried then. I just showed up and did my best, so I’m just going to take the same approach this year.”
Last summer, Janis caught just two passes in the preseason, but he made it practically impossible for the Packers to stash him on the practice squad when he took them both for touchdowns.
The first came on a shallow crossing route. He turned on the jets after the catch and raced down the sideline 34 yards for the score. The second was on a go route, a 33-yard TD.
Those passes came from Matt Flynn and Scott Tolzien, respectively. This year, Janis is hoping they come from Rodgers.
“That’s why I keep saying, when I’m on the field with Aaron, it’s all about making plays with him,” he said.