GREEN BAY—If the progress they made from the start of OTAs to the end of the June minicamp is any indication, late-round rookie receivers Jared Abbrederis and Jeff Janis are primed to make an impression in their first NFL training camp.
Almost invisible in the first couple of OTAs open to reporters, Abbrederis and Janis began showing up a lot more often in the 11-on-11 work and modified seven-on-seven drills during the offseason-concluding minicamp.
Snagging passes mostly from backup quarterbacks Matt Flynn, Scott Tolzien and Chase Rettig, the two late-round draft picks – Abbrederis was chosen in the fifth round, Janis in the seventh – appeared to be coming out of their rookie shell.
Abbrederis’ leaping sideline catch of a Tolzien pass in the first minicamp practice, and then a TD grab on a quick out from Tolzien two days later were particular highlights. Janis snared a pinpoint sideline throw from Flynn between a cornerback and safety before the veteran QB took the last day off, and then Rettig found Janis on a pair of crossing routes in the final workout.
Their steady progression is normal for rookies learning Mike McCarthy’s offense. As receivers become more comfortable with the playbook, pre-snap reads and route adjustments, the quarterbacks start finding them more.
“It’s not second nature to me yet, but you keep going through it,” Abbrederis said of the playbook. “It’s more knowing all the calls, when to break off a route, things like that. You can get a check at any time. If you get a check at the line, you need to know what that check is.”
The real question is, can they keep it going in training camp, when the pads go on and the defensive backs do more jamming at the line?
That’s a major element thrown into the mix for receivers, in addition to the pace of playbook installation picking up and not slowing down.
“Obviously there’s going to be more contact,” Janis said. “The physicality is going to get bumped up a little bit, so it’s going to be tougher to make some plays. I’ll just have to step up.”
Both rookies will get a look in the return game, too. Abbrederis took his share of punt-return reps during OTAs, while Janis was working as a kickoff returner.
The two got to know each other through the pre-draft process, working out together in San Diego and then rooming together at the Senior Bowl. But their credentials differ.
Abbrederis is smaller in stature (6-1, 195) and doesn’t have the size typical of recent Packers draftees at the position, such as Charles Johnson in 2013 or Davante Adams in the second round this year. He’s an accomplished Big Ten receiver, though, who took on some of the top cornerbacks in this draft while at Wisconsin (Ohio State’s Bradley Roby, Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard) and produced.
Janis, on the other hand, is bigger (6-3, 219) and tested off the charts physically as far as speed and strength, but he comes from Division II Saginaw Valley State and faces a monumental jump in the level of competition.
McCarthy said as minicamp concluded that Janis was “everything we thought coming out of the draft.” His impressive physical tools don’t separate him as much as they did in college, but they’ll be key to the transition, as long as he maximizes on them.
“Everybody is fast at this level, so it’s not as noticeable, but it definitely helps when you’re out there going against some good guys,” Janis said. “Once you get out there and start playing, it’s something you pick up on and start playing at that higher level.”
The Packers offense hopes to reach a level all its own in 2014, and where Abbrederis and Janis fit into the picture remains to be seen. The competition for roster spots at receiver promises to be fierce.
Barring injury, the quartet of Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Jarrett Boykin and Adams will hold four spots. That leaves a slew of players fighting for what likely will be two additional spots. Abbrederis and Janis are in that mix along with a late-round pick from last year, Kevin Dorsey, plus holdovers Chris Harper, Myles White and Alex Gillett.
To survive and succeed will be everyone’s objective, but not everyone’s destiny.
“Once camp comes, we have to start prepping to win a Super Bowl,” Abbrederis said. “That’s the team goal. If you can’t get the playbook, if you can’t make plays, there’s no room for you.”