GREEN BAY – Randall Cobb wants to play.
It doesn’t matter if it’s in the street as a child in Alcoa, Tenn., or under the bright lights of Lambeau Field. If there’s a football game going on, the Packers receiver is going to do whatever it takes to be a part of it.
The 2016 season was another testament to Cobb’s toughness. The former Pro Bowler fought through a strained hamstring early in the season before sustaining an ankle injury against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 11.
Relentless in his pursuit to play, Cobb gritted his teeth and dressed the following week in Chicago. He played 51 snaps in what will go down as one of the coldest games in Soldier Field history.
He felt each one of them.
“I could barely walk,” Cobb said. “We went out there to test and I jogged on the field, and the wind was blowing so hard, it was negative-3 or whatever, and I told them I was good. Then, I realized about midway through the game that I probably wasn’t good.”
Ankle injuries are tricky. Most timelines are based on strictly on how the player feels. Knowing there’s a fine line between toughness and being smart, Cobb credits the training staff for convincing him to downshift after that Bears game.
It wasn’t easy for Cobb to sit the final two games of the regular season, especially with the Packers in midst of a six-game winning streak that pulled them back into contention for the NFC North title. Yet, he knew he needed his body to be ready for a potential playoff push.
That scenario became reality after the Packers pulled off wins over Minnesota and Detroit to punch their ticket to an eighth consecutive playoff appearance.
Around the time Cobb’s ankle began to feel better, the Packers lost Jordy Nelson 16 snaps into their wild-card playoff matchup with the New York Giants. The eventual NFL Comeback Player of the Year broke his ribs absorbing a hit along the sidelines.
With the offense in need of a lift, Cobb re-emerged as Aaron Rodgers’ go-to target. He led Green Bay with 18 catches for 260 yards and three touchdowns in the playoffs, including a 42-yard Hail Mary before halftime against New York.
“I think they did a great job of helping me instead of hurting me in those last couple of weeks of the season last year,” said Cobb of the coaches and trainers. “I was trying my hardest to play through some things and I think having that rest, … I don’t think people understand how much a day or two difference of rest will help us, especially at the end of the season.”
Cobb is feeling great heading into this year’s training camp, though he admits that’s to be expected this time of year. Mentally, he’s in a good place after getting married in the offseason and spending his honeymoon in Africa.
Still only 26, Cobb enters his seventh NFL campaign with the goal of putting together a complete season like he did in 2014 when the 5-foot-10, 192-pound receiver caught 91 passes for 1,287 yards and 12 touchdowns in 16 regular-season starts.
The statistics aren’t what motivate Cobb, though. It’s how good he felt from the beginning of the season to the end.
“One of the two most important abilities for any player in this league is durability and availability,” Cobb said. “I’ve had a little bit of an issue with that the last couple years being banged up and missing a few games, trying to play through games I probably shouldn’t have been in. That’s something I have to try to do. I have to try to stay healthy and do everything that I can.”
Offense isn’t the only area where Cobb hopes to contribute this year. He also hopes to factor into the Packers’ plans on special teams after resuming punt-return duties down the stretch last season.
While Cobb’s 9.6-yard punt-return average is fifth-best in franchise annals, the team started weening Cobb off special teams after a breakout season in 2012. So far in camp, Cobb has been taking reps with second-year receiver Trevor Davis, cornerback Quinten Rollins and others.
“Punt return has always been a part of who I am as a player,” Cobb said. “That’s always been something I wanted to do. I asked about that last year, the year before. I’m going to continue to ask about that. I’m going to do everything I can to be back there.
“Trevor is doing some great things this past year, and we’re both competing for a starting job. That’s how I take it. I’m going out there competing every day trying to win the starting punt-return job.”
Both Head Coach Mike McCarthy and receivers coach Luke Getsy have made it known they want the ball in Cobb’s hands this season and for good reason.
The number of opportunities don’t concern Cobb. His focus, as it’s always been, is to capitalize on every pass that comes his way regardless of whether it’s a short bubble screen or a 60-yard touchdown down the seam.
Looking at the offense, he’s excited about the forecast with the addition of Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks, Jordy Nelson’s flexibility at receiver, and a proven pass-catching threat in the backfield with Ty Montgomery.
Individually, Cobb isn’t concerned with mounting a “bounce-back” season. He simply wants to be in a position to make plays.
“I had one of the highest catch percentages in the league and I feel like those stats speak for themselves,” Cobb said. “I’ll let that noise be the noise and I’m going to continue to do what I need to do to get myself into position to help this team.”
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