GREEN BAY – DeAngelo Yancey did a double-take the first time the Packers rookie receiver noticed his quarterback during an early team period of Monday’s practice at Nitschke Field.
It wasn’t the usual suspects – backups Brett Hundley, Joe Callahan and Taysom Hill – under center. No, it was Aaron Rodgers leading the huddle.
And after breaking the huddle, the two-time MVP quarterback was about to air it out in the form of a deep spiral targeted at the rookie fifth-round pick more than 40 yards downfield.
Yancey caught the pass in stride for a big gain.
“I had no idea,” said Yancey of the ball coming his way. “I didn’t even know Aaron was going to be scout-team quarterback.”
The play was reminiscent of Yancey’s final season at Purdue, when he averaged 19.1 yards per catch as a senior en route to finishing second in the Big Ten in receiving yards during the regular season.
However, the importance of this particular catch – and the several other targets Yancey hauled in Monday – may be of even greater importance given the quarterback who was throwing to him.
Practice reps with Rodgers aren’t a given for young receivers this time of year. When Rodgers is on the field, Yancey knows it’s on him to make those snaps count.
As he occasionally does in training camp, Rodgers lined up with the scout-team offense Monday and gave the young receivers a workout with a barrage of deep 50/50 balls.
Working underneath, Yancey also caught a pass from Rodgers on an out route to convert a third-and-short situation and nabbed a zinger from Hundley on a crossing pattern.
“It’s competitive, especially when you’re out there with (Rodgers),” Yancey said. “With him being the guy he is, you want to make sure you make the most of those opportunities because every little thing matters. You keep making those plays for him in scout team, he’s going to remember it in the back of his head.”
The first three months of Yancey’s NFL career have been a master class in performance and preparation. Getting his first taste of life in the pros, the 6-foot-1, 220-pound receiver made a list of goals he wanted to achieve before training camp.
It started with getting back toward that 220-pound mark. By the end of the offseason program, Yancey’s weight was hovering near 228 instead of the preferable 218-220 range.
There’s a science to weight training for receivers. A little extra muscle here and a little less running there, and you risk losing a touch of explosiveness. Prior to moving to running back, Ty Montgomery recently told reporters he faced a similar battle in trying to keep his weight around 215.
Training in Indianapolis, Yancey honed his conditioning and was smarter about his eating. Since reporting back in Green Bay at his listed weight, Yancey has felt more like himself on the field.
“I definitely feel a difference,” Yancey said. “You can see a difference. Really, it all comes down to confidence. When you hop on the scale, it’s like I know I’m eight pounds overweight. It’s just mind games. I know I’m better at 220.”
Count receivers coach Luke Getsy among those who have noticed a difference in Yancey’s game in training camp, but it goes further than just weight. He’s also made strides in the mental aspect of the game.
Monday’s practice was a good example of that. From Getsy’s standpoint, the chance for Yancey and all of his young receivers to practice with Rodgers is invaluable for two reasons.
It not only gives the receivers the opportunity to catch passes from one of the best to ever do it, but it also puts them against the Packers’ No. 1 defense.
When the lights came on Monday, Yancey wasn’t afraid to seize the moment.
“I think he’s had a good progression here over the last two weeks,” Getsy said. “He dropped some weight, so he looked really good. I think it paid off for him because he’s done a lot of good things, especially improving from spring. His movement skills and decision-making is much better now than it was back in June.”
There are several close position battles unfolding so far in training camp, but the competition at receiver may be near the top of the watch list. Along with their two rookie draft picks – Yancey and Malachi Dupre – the Packers return seven receivers who have been on their active roster.
The numbers game doesn’t concern Yancey right now. His focus is locked on transferring his skills from the practice field to an actual in-game setting.
He’ll get his first shot this Thursday when the Packers host the Philadelphia Eagles in their preseason opener at Lambeau Field.
“I got a little taste of seeing 60-plus on Family Night,” said Yancey, referring to the 63,156 in attendance at Saturday’s annual practice inside Lambeau. “But I’m definitely ready for Thursday to get out there and my first real NFL game. Just to feel the atmosphere and get out there and do what I do.”
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