GREEN BAY – Randall Cobb had plenty on his plate during the Packers’ second public practice of the offseason Thursday, but he also couldn’t help but notice Jordy Nelson catching passes from Aaron Rodgers off to the side.
The sight brought a smile to the fifth-year receiver’s face, knowing full well the work Nelson has put in over the past nine months to return from the knee injury that landed him on injured reserve through all of last season.
While Nelson likely will hold off on 11-on-11 drills until training camp, the ninth-year receiver was back running the route tree, cutting sharply and catching passes with his favorite quarterback once again.
“Going through an injury is a tough time,” said Cobb, who spent half of the 2013 season on injured reserve. “It gets kind of lonely in the training room, so being able to be back on the field and be back with us is great for him and we’re excited to have him back.”
Nelson and the Packers’ training staff are playing the long game with his rehab, requiring a good deal of patience and understanding that it’s August and September that matter most.
That doesn’t mean he can’t take steps forward, though. The opportunity for Nelson to run an assortment of routes and hone his timing with Rodgers is something Head Coach Mike McCarthy, Cobb and Nelson all agree is invaluable.
For starters, Rodgers’ passes are unlike those of any other quarterback in the NFL let alone the Packers’ roster. Cobb adds that they often hiss when thrown in your direction.
Cobb equates getting back on the same page with Rodgers to riding a bicycle. It takes time to redevelop comfort with routes and break points, but there’s seven years of familiarity between Rodgers and Nelson to hasten that transition.
McCarthy said afterward it was good to get that process started on Thursday.
“It’s very important for Jordy Nelson to catch the football from Aaron Rodgers. That’s something that can’t get lost in his coming back,” McCarthy said. “Jordy’s human. Aaron throws the football differently than the other quarterbacks we have here. So it’s important for him to get that timing to see the football come out of his hand and get his head around when the ball’s in the air.”
Nelson has caught passes from Rodgers this offseason, but Thursday marked the first time during OTAs that he’s run routes at a competitive speed with the quarterback delivering passes in his breaks.
Nelson again reiterated with reporters after practice that the cautious approach is strictly part of his rehab plan, adding: “If there’s a game Sunday. I’m playing.”
He’ll also have an extra week of preparation in training camp due to the Packers’ involvement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame Game, a fifth preseason contest.
“I could do it competitively,” Nelson said. “But, obviously, we’re going to smart with it when there’s no reason to.
“You want to be out there and you want to have fun, so it’s nice to at least be catching some balls and have the jersey on and cleats on and not 100 percent in tennis shoes and being a coach.”
The last time Nelson and Cobb played together in 2014, they became the first duo in NFL history to record 90-plus receptions, 1,200-plus yards and 12-plus touchdown receptions apiece in the same regular season.
So on both a personal and professional level, Cobb was excited to see Nelson back doing what he does best.
“Free Jordy,” said Cobb with a smile. “I’m still waiting for him to be cut free. Hopefully here soon but it’s not my job to call that. But yeah, they’ll be right back on track.”