GREEN BAY – Thus far in his brief NFL career, receiver Jared Abbrederis is best known as the local Wisconsin kid who made the in-state fans proud by stepping up big in the playoffs for the Packers last season.
In that context, it’s easy to forget that Abbrederis, now in his third season in Green Bay, has yet to make the 53-man roster out of training camp.
He’s on the verge of doing that for the first time this week, and while he’s not counting his chickens before they hatch, he knows he’s put together a solid body of work heading into Thursday’s preseason finale in Kansas City.
“I feel like I’ve had a good camp,” he said. “There’s probably one day that I’d like to have back, thinking back to all the practices. But I think it’s been a productive camp for me.
“I’d like to have a couple more big plays here and there, but you just have to take what they give you and do your best being consistent.”
His biggest play came last Friday night in San Francisco, when he hauled in an 18-yard TD pass cutting across the field toward the pylon. It doesn’t technically count, but it was his first professional touchdown, though not his first time in the end zone, as he caught a two-point pass from Aaron Rodgers in the wild-card playoff at Washington last January.
Abbrederis has six receptions for 51 yards through three preseason games this summer, an accomplishment in itself given that injuries – an ACL tear as a rookie in 2014 and a concussion on the first day of camp last year – kept him out of all but one preseason game his first two seasons.
All he had last year, after spending his rookie campaign on injured reserve, was the preseason finale to state a case for being kept around. He caught one pass and returned three punts for 35 yards.
“It got him a spot on the practice squad, and the next thing you know, we’re in the playoffs and he’s one of the main targets,” Rodgers said. “It’s what we tell these guys a lot of times. You never know when your number is going to get called.
“Because when we cut down to that final 63, counting the practice squad, we’re going to have to count on each one of those guys at some point during the season. So you need to be ready, and Jared’s a great example of that.”
Abbrederis hopes to open this season on the 53, of course, and his goal from the start of the offseason program in the spring – in addition to staying healthy – was to perform consistently.
He was a steady presence at practice throughout camp, with rarely a day going by he didn’t make at least one notable catch. He also learned as much as he could from veterans like Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb along the way.
Rodgers has certainly noticed, emphasizing that Abbrederis’ talent “is evident” and “NFL-level,” and that only injuries held him back in the past. The two-time MVP quarterback also sees a little of himself in Abbrederis as an overlooked prospect out to prove something. Rodgers took the junior-college route to a Division I scholarship, while Abbrederis began at Wisconsin as a walk-on.
“He’s very intelligent, and obviously very skilled, but he has a great approach,” Rodgers said. “He works every single day, and he’s always kind of in my hip pocket or in Jordy or Randall’s hip pocket, asking good questions. He’s had a great camp and I’m really proud of him.”
Another player in the same boat who’s put together a strong camp is third-year tight end Justin Perillo. Like Abbrederis, Perillo has yet to make the 53-man roster out of training camp, beginning the last two seasons on the practice squad before mid-season promotions.
A fundamentally sound tight end who catches everything thrown his way, Perillo is clearly the Packers’ No. 3 tight end at this point, after Kennard Backman and Mitchell Henry were effectively waived injured this week in the cut-down to 75.
Perillo believes nothing is guaranteed, though.
“I don’t feel like I’ve made the team at all,” he said. “Still have to go through a preseason game, so I just approach it like I’ve been doing the entire training camp.
“It’s tough to see ‘KB’ and Mitchell go, but I just have to come to work every day and keep on working hard, and we’ll see what happens.”
Perillo has a veteran mentor, too, in free-agent signee Jared Cook, who is quiet with the media but is quickly establishing a presence on this Packers team.
“Absolutely. I’ve picked his brain about everything,” Perillo said. “Defenses, route-running, blocking. He’s been in the league a long time, and it’s great to have a veteran in our room, because we’re all young.”
Abbrederis and Perillo both insist they haven’t focused on the heated competition at their positions or the looming roster cut-down, and the mentality appears to have served them well.
That’s not to say Saturday won’t mean something if everything falls the way it’s currently leaning.
“That’s why we’re all here, to be part of something special,” Abbrederis said. “We’ve got a great group of guys that are here. It could be a special season, and you have to do everything you can to be a part of that. That’s everybody’s plan. That’s what everybody wants.”
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