GREEN BAY – The timing would be pretty special.
Wide receiver Max McCaffrey has done just about everything he can this preseason except find the end zone.
Scoring his first Packers touchdown on Saturday night in Denver wouldn’t just augment his case for a roster spot, it would sort of bring his football career full circle.
McCaffrey, a Colorado native, played his last prep football game at Mile High Stadium, as Valor Christian High School won its third consecutive state championship.
While Max’s younger brother Christian was the star of the show with 312 yards from scrimmage and four touchdowns, the elder McCaffrey put his stamp on the state title, too, by returning an interception for a score.
“I’m excited for it,” McCaffrey said of returning to Mile High, which hosted the last two of the three straight high school state titles. It’s also the stadium in which McCaffrey’s father, Ed, played the final three years of his NFL career with the Denver Broncos.
“I grew up there, so I’ve been to Mile High once or twice. It’ll be nice to get back and get another game in there.”
Nostalgia aside, McCaffrey will be a player to watch on Saturday night once the starters exit, likely for good as far as the preseason goes.
With five receptions for 70 yards through two preseason games, McCaffrey is tied for the team lead in catches and ranks second in receiving yards, behind Jeff Janis (83).
He’s been a steady presence on the practice field during training camp in his bid to crack a crowded Green Bay receiving corps. He’s routinely praised by the backup quarterbacks for his route-running and reliability, and by coaches and teammates for his work ethic and knowledge of the little things that young receivers don’t always possess.
“I think his dad has taught him a lot,” fellow receiver Randall Cobb said. “You can definitely tell with the way that he moves and some of the things that he does in his routes to create separation.
“He goes really hard in practice. He’s got a great relationship with the quarterbacks. He’s got three guys fighting over throwing the ball to him. All of them feel Max is their guy.”
Quarterbacks appreciate receivers they can trust, and McCaffrey is trustworthy to them. His diligence off the field translates to dependability on it.
“Max, he’s a detailed guy. Every little detail is important to him,” receivers coach Luke Getsy said. “Everything we talk about in our room, he writes it down and he makes sure it’s engrained in him. So when you go out the next day on the practice field, you can see him trying to emulate that. What more can you ask of a guy?
“He wants to do it right and do it the right way every single time. The comfort level with the quarterbacks, they’re feeling that, because he’s where he’s supposed to be when he’s supposed to be there.”
McCaffrey’s approach was born of necessity, after arriving in Green Bay so late last season.
Undrafted a year ago, McCaffrey’s first shot in the NFL came with the Raiders, but he was released in late August. The Packers signed him to their practice squad in December.
With the team in the midst of a playoff push while McCaffrey was just trying to learn the playbook, the Duke alum cranked up his study mode to high intensity.
“I got here and was trying to figure it out on the fly, and in this league, you have to figure it out fast, because new guys are always coming in, and if you don’t know, you’re going to drag behind,” McCaffrey said. “I just feel the best way to get out there and feel comfortable is to know what you’re doing.”
The first impression mattered, because injuries at receiver prompted the Packers to put McCaffrey on the 53-man roster for the NFC title game in Atlanta, just in case, though he was eventually a game-day inactive.
Since the spring, it’s been impossible not to notice him. He doesn’t have blazing speed or off-the-charts athleticism, but the 6-2, 200-pounder has consistently shown up, getting open and making catches in 11-on-11 work.
“He’s a smart football player, he’s tough as nails, and when you put all that stuff together, you have an impressive young man,” Getsy said. “He works his tail off every single day, and that’s paid off for him.”
Will it pay off with a roster spot? His chances are still hard to gauge.
Beyond Green Bay’s top three of Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams and Cobb, standout camp and/or preseason moments have been turned in by Janis, Geronimo Allison and Trevor Davis, while two rookie draft picks were added as well in DeAngelo Yancey and Malachi Dupre.
Allison is suspended for Week 1, so that could buy one receiver some extra time, but regardless, there isn’t room for everybody on the 53. That’s just reality, but that part of it is not on McCaffrey’s mind.
“I don’t really worry about making the decisions, that’s not my job here,” he said. “I just try to come out every day and do what they ask of me.
“Sometimes on special teams, they ask you to do something completely different you’ve never done before, and I just want to get out there and be versatile and learn anything I need to learn.”
He got a chance to return punts in the fourth quarter at Washington last week, and he made it count, fair-catching one in traffic and bringing another back 17 yards. Pretty impressive effort considering he returned all of three punts his entire college career.
But that’s McCaffrey. Give him something to do and he’ll make it look like nothing new.
He’s got two preseason games left to give the Packers more reasons to keep him around. Mile High Stadium is already a special place to him. Maybe it’ll become even more special Saturday night.
“I don’t think I need to do anything different than what I’ve been doing,” McCaffrey said. “I treat every day as if it’s my last day I get to play. I think if you have that kind of mentality toward it, you just do your job each day.”