GREEN BAY — This all started with Randall Cobb wanting to make a simple change this offseason.
The Packers’ sixth-year receiver, understanding the toll an NFL season can have on the body, sought to add a few pounds to his 5-foot-10 frame in an effort to better absorb hits.
Cobb succeeded and returned for training camp about six pounds heavier through a steady diet and an increased emphasis on weight lifting.
Fast forward to Friday night in San Francisco when 49ers defenders Keith Reaser and Chris Davis stood between Cobb and the end zone after catching a short swing pass from Aaron Rodgers.
As the roadblock formed ahead of him, Cobb tucked his head and darted between the two for the 6-yard touchdown, his first of the preseason.
So what was the key to the sequence of events? Rodgers and fellow receiver Jordy Nelson have an idea.
“I was teasing him that he wouldn’t have scored that touchdown at 190,” Rodgers said. “But at 196, he’s getting that ball in the end zone now.”
Added Nelson, laughing: “I give him a hard time about that. The old 190 wouldn’t have made it in, but whatever he is now got in.”
All kidding aside, there is a significant difference between how Cobb feels today and the way he felt most of last season, and it’s not just his weight.
Cobb suffered in silence through most of last season, beginning with a sprained AC joint in his shoulder he sustained in the Packers’ third preseason game against Philadelphia.
In an attempt to calm concern, Cobb met with reporters immediately after the game to tell everyone he was fine, but that didn’t erase the weekly aches and pains.
Watching Cobb operate in this year’s camp, Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy doesn’t see a bigger receiver – he sees a healthy one.
“I think the biggest thing with Randall Cobb is he’s healthy,” McCarthy said “Randall played the whole season last year injured. He was hurt in the Philadelphia game, the third preseason game last year, and he fought that all year.”
Cobb played in all 18 games last season (including playoffs) and never said a word about mounting injuries during the season. Behind the scenes, the shoulder issue forced him to forgo lifting through most of the year.
That’s the beginning of a vicious cycle for any NFL receiver colliding with 215-pound safeties and 250-pound linebackers. The lighter you are, the more difficult it is to handle the blows.
“It doesn’t help when you can’t do much upper body (work) to hold your strength,” Cobb said. “Obviously, it weighed a lot on me but I feel great right now. That’s my plan to try to maintain my weight and try to stay as injury-free as I can.”
Ultimately, Cobb wasn’t able to be as effective as he would’ve liked in catching 79 passes for 829 yards and six touchdowns in 2015, but he doesn’t use the injuries as an excuse.
Instead, he dove headfirst into revamping his offseason workouts to improve his odds of staying healthy throughout the course of the season. So far, he feels every bit as quick and explosive as he did playing around 190.
“It’s part of it. That’s the NFL,” Cobb said. “Nobody cares about what you have going on. Everybody has something going on at this level. I didn’t perform as well as I could with the situation I had. It’s on me.”
While Nelson works his way back from a season-ending knee injury, Cobb also feels he has something to prove entering his sixth NFL season.
That explosion showed in his first playing time with Rodgers on Friday night with Cobb racking up three catches for 30 yards and the touchdown in only two series.
A versatile weapon who can line up in the backfield, Cobb has gained the reputation around the league for being the Packers’ Swiss-army knife on offense.
His plan is to play around 195 or 196 pounds this season, which should help him stand up to big hits in the middle of the field or when he occasionally lines up in the backfield.
“His ability to get in space and make plays from any position on the field, that’s the part of Randall – as a play-caller and when you build a game plan – that you love about him,” McCarthy said.
“His ability to break tackles and he’s so smart with the football too. He’s an instinctive player. Understands defenses, very detailed in his route-running and really everything that we do.”
Those close to Cobb praise how the veteran receiver handled last season, particularly after Nelson was lost for the year. Publicly, he made no excuses. Privately, he stepped up as a leader in an incredibly young receiver room.
Along the way, he helped teach a young receiver like Jared Abbrederis how to be effective in the slot. Through the highs and lows, Cobb’s attention to detail never lessened.
In 2016, Cobb will be an “important part” of the Packers’ offense, according to Rodgers. Nelson and Abbrederis fully expect Cobb to continue on the same grind he’s always been on.
So what exactly can fans expect from a bigger, healthier Cobb? He’ll let his actions speak for him.
“They’ll see,” Cobb said. “I don’t need to say anything. My play will speak for it.”
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