GREEN BAY – Scoring a touchdown in the preseason doesn’t break any new ground for Jeff Janis.
His 20-yard grab last Thursday against the Eagles was his sixth career preseason TD reception, and the second-shortest of those half dozen, actually.
But upon closer examination, this one was a little different.
Mike McCarthy revealed after the game that quarterback Brett Hundley made a check at the line of scrimmage. As the play unfolded, it was clear Janis and Hundley were on the same page. Janis’ jab step to the inside was timed up perfectly with Hundley’s pump fake. The defender bit, Janis was gone down the sideline, and Hundley’s throw was right on target.
If there’s any piece of film to illustrate where Janis is now compared to a few years ago, this is it.
Coming from a small Division II school as a seventh-round draft pick in 2014, Janis had a long way to go to fully grasp the Packers’ offense. The steps were small for two years, and then missing the entire preseason last summer with a broken hand didn’t help him make the progress that was projected after a breakout playoff performance in Arizona the previous January.
But that’s all behind him now, and Janis is starting to look more and more like the NFL receiver many believed he’d become, even if it took a little longer than hoped. The importance of making plays like the one last Thursday – on the fly yet within the framework of the offense – can’t be overstated.
“It builds confidence in the quarterbacks here, it builds confidence in the coaches,” Janis said. “Anytime the ball is going your way, you have to make a play on it.”
Janis has followed up the slick TD catch with his strongest week of camp so far. He made multiple catches in team periods Tuesday and Wednesday, both with the regular offense and scout-team unit. He’s making noise after a quiet start.
He appears to be settling in during a camp that began with many outsiders wondering where he might fit in Green Bay’s receiving corps. The Packers returned seven receivers from the 53-man roster used in the NFC title game in Atlanta and added two draft picks in the fifth (DeAngelo Yancey) and seventh (Malachi Dupre) rounds this past spring.
Janis has never gotten caught up in the numbers game, though, and he wasn’t about to start now.
“Ever since I’ve been here, we’ve drafted receivers, so it’s nothing new to me,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of competition in there, and that’s good. It brings out the best in everybody in the room. We’ve got a lot of guys that can make plays.”
In his bid to make the roster once again, Janis’ ace in the hole is his special-teams ability, which he was still able to execute with the cast on his arm early last season.
An effective gunner on the punt team as well as blocker on punt returns, Janis remains in the mix to return kickoffs this year. Including playoffs, he averaged 26.0 yards on 27 career attempts over the 2015-16 seasons.
On Trevor Davis’ 68-yard punt return for a score last week against the Eagles, Janis was one of a handful of players throwing a key block to spring Davis. He maintains the Packers are “really close” to breaking a kickoff return, too.
“That’s a big role for me on this football team, to play well on special teams, so I take it really seriously,” Janis said. “If that’s going to be my job, I’m going to go out there and do it to the best of my ability.”
With three preseason games to go, nothing has been decided as far as roster spots for receivers beyond the big three of Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams and Randall Cobb.
Seemingly every day in practice, a new young receiver jumps out. Davis and Max McCaffrey have regularly made plays while undrafted rookies Michael Clark and Montay Crockett have had their moments, too. Geronimo Allison looks like he’s building on a strong finish to his rookie year, though he’s suspended for Week 1 of the regular season. Yancey (groin) and Dupre (concussion) have been out this week.
Janis is once again squarely in the thick of the competition, and he’s shown over the past week he won’t be the forgotten man despite his modest 15 career regular-season receptions.
“Going into my fourth year, I’m getting some respect from the coaches, the quarterbacks and other guys in the room,” he said. “I’m pretty much a veteran in the league now. That’s kind of weird to say, but yeah, it’s going pretty well.”