GREEN BAY — The first time Jeff Janis broke his finger in high school, the future Packers receiver simply threw a club on his hand and switched to running back.
Janis wound up leading the Tawas Area High School football team in rushing with 731 yards and 10 touchdowns, averaging 16.2 yards per carry on 45 attempts.
All these years later, the 6-foot-3, 219-pound receiver is still willing to do whatever it takes to get back on the field following his most recent hand hiccup.
Just probably not at running back.
“I don’t think that’s going to happen here,” said Janis, who recently underwent a procedure to fix the bones around his right index finger. “I didn’t tackle anybody then, either. I don’t think I’ve ever had to tackle anybody with a club, but I think I could still do it.”
Janis returned to practice in a limited capacity this week, even catching a pass along the sidelines from quarterback Aaron Rodgers in an early team period on Monday.
He switched to a splint on Tuesday since he wasn’t participating in contact periods and working only on his conditioning.
For the Packers, this week has been about trying to gain as much information as possible to see what Janis might be able to do despite the injury.
“Just working Jeff back into it,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. “Just want to gather information with him playing with the club. He had a nice catch there on the boundary to his left. Just giving Jeff a chance to compete. There’s still some things to do.”
If Janis is able to play, his biggest impact likely would come on special teams where he established himself as one of the league’s prominent gunners on punt coverage last season.
Janis, who was second on the team with 15 coverage tackles, played a significant role in the Packers holding opponents to 4.2 yards per punt return, the lowest average in franchise history.
He also shined on kickoff returns after Ty Montgomery went down with an ankle injury in Week 6, registering 29.0 yards per return and bringing back three kickoffs more than 45 yards each.
While the Packers have been able to stay relatively healthy during camp, the special teams units have been stressed this past week with stalwarts Chris Banjo (hamstring), Jayrone Elliott (hamstring) and Joe Thomas (shin) all dealing with injuries.
The Packers’ other gunner last season, third-year cornerback Demetri Goodson, is slated to miss the first four games of the 2016 season due to a suspension.
What Janis and the coaching staff must determine this week is whether he can still be effective tackling with the club on his hand.
“Can he make a tackle I guess would be the biggest question to me,” special teams coordinator Ron Zook said. “Can he go down there and make a tackle, which is going to force him to wrap up? When you wrap, you want to grab. If he can get them on the ground and the doctors say he can do it and coach says he’s up, I’m all for it.”
As challenging as it may be to tackle with a club, Janis acknowledged it’s even more inconvenient catching a pass, though he proved on Monday that he’s willing to try.
Before practice, Rodgers joked with Janis that he “won’t be scared” to look Janis’ way on the field because of the amount of passes the receiver already catches with his body.
That’s exactly what happened when Janis took the field.
“We like to tease him about being a big body-catcher and he fires back with ‘results’ because the results are he catches most of the balls thrown his way,” Rodgers said. “Sure enough, he catches the ball on the sidelines.
“But his ability on special teams can really help us if he’s able to play with that club.”
There’s no miracle cure for a broken bone. Janis knows only time will give him the usage of both of his hands again. There is a chance he’ll be able to downgrade from a club to a protective device as the bones heal.
In the meantime, he’s staying patient and trying to help in any way possible. Last week, Janis could be seen working with the team’s young gunners during practice.
“Right now, there’s nothing else I can really do except for letting time heal,” Janis said. “That’s all I can really worry about right now. Everything else will take care of itself.”
McCray traded: Prior to the league-mandated roster reduction to 75 players Tuesday, the Packers traded linebacker Lerentee McCray to the Buffalo Bills for an undisclosed draft choice in 2018.
McCray, a fourth-year veteran out of Florida, signed with the Packers in April after winning a Super Bowl with the Denver Broncos last season.
The trade leaves the Packers with Clay Matthews, Nick Perry, Julius Peppers, Datone Jones, third-round pick Kyler Fackrell, Elliott and Reggie Gilbert on the roster with final cuts due on Saturday.
Elliott, a former undrafted free agent in 2014, feels no greater sense of comfort despite McCray’s departure.
“I don’t think I’m safe,” Elliott said. “We’re not oblivious to the situation. We all sit down and talk about it. We can’t keep seven, eight guys. All of us can play and, wherever we’re at, I feel like we all can contribute to any NFL team.”
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