GREEN BAY—He’s the elder statesman of the Packers receiving corps now, and he’s not quite sure how to describe it.
“Weird,” Jordy Nelson said following Tuesday’s OTA practice. “Unbelievable.”
In less than two years, Nelson has climbed the experience chart at his position from No. 4 to No. 1, following the free-agent departures of Greg Jennings and James Jones each of the last two offseasons, plus the retirement of Donald Driver.
He has steadily grown as a leader all along. The mantle is just a little more official now. Even dealing with contract talk is nothing new, as Nelson enters the final year of his current pact just as confident as he was in 2011 that it won’t become a distraction or worry.
“Not at all,” said Nelson, who's coming off career bests of 85 catches for 1,314 yards in 2013. “I didn’t feel it last time. I don’t think I’ll feel it this time. I think we’re a long ways from that anyway. We’ve got a few months to work on that and, hopefully, get it taken care of. I think we’ll be fine.”
For now, he’s more interested in seeing what the younger receivers bring to the table, and helping them maximize on it.
Second-round draft pick Davante Adams was back at practice after missing last week’s workouts due to a players’ union rookie event, and he doesn’t hesitate to lean on Nelson, whether it’s to get up to speed in the playbook or adjust routes on the fly.
“With a guy like that, he’s especially helpful because he’s very secure with his job and what he can do out there, so he’s not worried,” Adams said. “Sometimes you run into guys that don’t want to help out younger guys because they might feel threatened by them. But Jordy’s a great dude. He’s been helpful on the field, in the film room, everything.”
It helps new additions like Adams and fellow draft picks Jared Abbrederis and Jeff Janis to have a quarterback like Aaron Rodgers, but there’s added pressure catching passes right out of the gate from one of the league’s best, too.
“I didn’t know how it was going to be, but he gets that thing out of there,” Adams said of Rodgers’ throws. “Pretty much, if you don’t catch the ball, it’s your fault, because the ball is going to be there.”
The receiver position appears stocked for the long term, but it’s debatable how big a splash the Packers will need these rookies to make right away with veterans like Randall Cobb and Jarrett Boykin right in the thick of things. Little-known Chris Harper also flashed early in Tuesday’s practice with a smooth grab of a Rodgers bullet on a post route.
Cobb is coming off a season in which he missed 10 games with a broken leg. Project his six-game numbers in 2013 (31 catches, 433 yards, four TDs) over 16 contests and he was headed for an 80-catch, 1,150-yard, 10-TD season.
“I was expecting myself to have a big year last year,” said Cobb, whose contract also runs out after 2014, “and I’m expecting myself to have a big year this year.”
Third-year pro Jarrett Boykin was a favorite target of Rodgers’ on Tuesday, catching multiple hitches and other short routes as he steps into the No. 3 role vacated by Jones.
It’s the type of opportunity Boykin has seized before. Last year, in the first game after Cobb broke his leg in Baltimore, Boykin caught eight passes for 103 yards and a TD vs. Cleveland. It was the first time he’d caught more than two passes in an NFL game, let alone topped 100 yards or scored.
Boykin posted another 100-yard outing and a pair of additional touchdowns in the second half of the year. He finished with 681 yards in the regular season, more than Jones had in any of his first five seasons in the league.
“‘Boyk’ is going to do his thing,” Nelson said. “The confidence Aaron will have in him will continue to grow. The comfort level will continue to grow for both of them. I think he’ll be the guy you saw (last year).”
“He doesn’t ever get comfortable and will continue to grind until he’s done.”
Nelson might as well have been describing himself, only he’s setting the example now rather than following it, as hard as it is for him to believe.
“It flies by,” the 2008 second-round draft pick said. “It’s fun to be in the leadership role and take on that responsibility.” Additional coverage - June 3 OTA