GREEN BAY – Aaron Rodgers wants to see more.
More plays, more crispness and more consistency from the young receivers on the roster who are moving up in the pecking order following Jordy Nelson’s season-ending injury.
“Frankly, a lot,” was Rodgers’ initial response on Wednesday to what he wants to see from receivers like Ty Montgomery, Myles White, Jeff Janis and the three undrafted rookies currently practicing as they battle to round out the Packers’ 2015 receiving corps.
“There’s some spots that are definitely open now. Where it looked like maybe one spot, it’s two spots open for the taking for a lot of guys in the mix. We need a couple of them to separate themselves.”
They’ll do that on offense by staying mentally up to speed with the first unit. As he often has in the past, Rodgers harped on the mental side of things and how that needs to click for a receiver to earn a quarterback’s trust.
So much changes in the NFL from the time a play is called in the huddle to when the ball is snapped, and even after the snap, depending on the defensive alignment and movement. To QBs like Rodgers, and veteran receivers like Nelson, on-the-fly adjustments are second nature.
They aren’t as automatic with others, and teammates have to get on the same page for Green Bay’s offense to function at the elite level it’s accustomed to.
“It’s can you run the right route at the right time and understand what we’re trying to do in the progressions,” Rodgers said. “All those guys are coming along. We need to see more consistency. That’s what making the jump is all about.
“When you know what you’re doing, then you can play faster. We need them to play faster, and that will give them confidence and give the quarterback confidence to throw them the ball.”
So far this week, Montgomery has gotten the reps with the first unit as the No. 3 receiver. Rodgers is excited about the Stanford rookie but cautioned against loading him with too much, saying he needs to be allowed “to progress at a natural pace.”
Referring to Janis and the others, Rodgers says there are “great days” and “days with too many mistakes.”
It’s clear from the urgency in his voice how much Rodgers values the third and fourth receivers in this offense. Davante Adams grew into the No. 3 role as a rookie last year, and Rodgers noticed in studying the film in the offseason, Adams was open a lot.
The reigning league MVP needs this year’s No. 3 to be able to do the same.
“The third receiver is going to get some opportunities,” Rodgers said. “We have a talented two-headed run game, a great offensive line. We’re going to have great balance this year.
“There’s going to be some one-on-ones outside and we look for matchups. That third guy could get the matchup and he’s going to need to produce.”
The Packers’ defense is preparing to pick up its share of the slack for a Nelson-less offense, too, and the starting unit has slowly been getting healthier. It’s perhaps healthy enough to play together in a preseason game for the first time on Saturday night.
Defensive lineman Mike Daniels (ankle) and safety Morgan Burnett (personal) both returned from absences this week, and linebacker Clay Matthews (knee, elbow) could be ready to get his first preseason action.
“We’re not panicking,” Daniels said. “We’re just getting ready to get rolling. We know there’s a little more weight put on our shoulders, and we’re welcoming it.”
Veteran leader Julius Peppers referred to the team’s resilience as the quality that will get it past Nelson’s injury, and in his view that’s the type of locker room that can compensate, collectively, for such a big loss.
“We’re going to need everybody,” Peppers said.
“The road is going to be tougher. The road is going to be tougher now without Jordy. He’s such a big part of this team, but I think we’ve got the right guys in here.”
Watch: McCarthy isn't asking players to replace Nelson
Watch: Nelson talks injury, looks forward