GREEN BAY – Memo to the NFC’s punt returners: You may want to call for a fair catch when Jeff Janis is around.
The Packers’ second-year receiver is quickly becoming one of the league’s top punt gunners, beating his man (or men) off the line of scrimmage and meeting the ball and punt returner at the appropriate spot.
Last Sunday against the Cowboys, Janis flattened Dallas returner Lucky Whitehead on two first-half punts, burying him for a 2-yard loss on each attempt. The timing of Janis’ full-speed hits couldn’t have been better.
“Anytime you can go down there and make tackles like that and get the crowd going, it helps your confidence and makes you feel good,” Janis said after the game. “You want to keep it rolling next time.”
After the first one, it was almost stunning that Whitehead didn’t call for a fair catch on the second. The hit was practically a carbon copy.
Whitehead did fair catch the next two punts, but then in the fourth quarter, he tried to return another one. Janis was right there again, and Demetri Goodson cleaned up his initial hit for another 2-yard loss.
The Cowboys tried man-on-man against Janis on the outside at first, then switched to a double-team. It didn’t matter.
“Just using speed and hands, that’s the biggest thing,” Janis said of winning that battle at gunner. “You can’t let them get their hands on you and hold you. That’s what I was trying to focus on tonight.”
A fan favorite as a Division II seventh-round draft pick in 2014, Janis heard plenty of approval from the Lambeau Field crowd for his big hits. The fans weren’t the only ones enthusiastic about his play, either.
“It gets guys fired up on the team,” special teams leader Chris Banjo said. “When you don’t let them get anything out there, whether they’re doubling you or singling you, it’s phenomenal.
“Just look at Jeff. Look at his build (6-3, 219). He’s big, strong, fast. Fast as hell. It’s tough. I kind of feel bad for guys out there who do have the responsibility of trying to keep him off.”
Janis’ work helped punter Tim Masthay post a 44.7-yard net average on six punts, an outstanding number in the rainy conditions. Janis now ranks second on the team to Banjo in special-teams tackles. His three vs. Dallas give him 14 on the season, just behind Banjo’s 17.
“A lot of things are new to him and he keeps getting better,” Special Teams Coordinator Ron Zook said. “Every experience he gets is a learning experience and he learns from it.
“He’ll get tested this week. Watching Oakland, they do a great job on the gunners.”
While his snaps on offense have been sporadic, Janis has embraced the special-teams roles he’s been given for now. He also has two long kickoff returns to his credit since taking over that job about a month ago. If his play is jumping up a notch late in the year, all the better.
“I’m just trying to go out there and make plays whenever I can. Especially playing football in December, any play is huge,” he said. “Any special teams play can win the game, and I’ll try to focus on that.”
Perhaps a game-changing type of play isn’t far behind. Punt returners shall eschew the fair catch at their peril.
“He’s always looking to get better, always asking questions, and he put everything together (Sunday),” Banjo said. “Him doing that is not a surprise to anybody on our team. I expect that from him almost every time now.”