GREEN BAY – Justin Perillo didn’t want to take the same long and difficult route to the active roster this year he did last year.
When the small-school tight end was forced to, though, he didn’t let it hold him back.
Released at the end of training camp and signed to the practice squad for the second straight year, Perillo’s midseason promotion to the 53-man roster this time has featured a lot more game action and offensive contributions.
It’s a credit to his perseverance, and the former undrafted and unknown commodity from the University of Maine is suddenly a more recognizable name in Packernation after his five catches for 58 yards and last-minute touchdown on Sunday vs. Detroit.
“When I got cut this year too, I had it in the back of my mind what happened last year when I got activated,” said Perillo, who was robbed of a full preseason to compete for a roster spot, missing a portion of training camp with a concussion.
“So you can’t be down at all. It does stink that you get cut, but you just have to keep working hard. There are a lot of bumps in the road. You just have to overcome them.”
Perillo appeared in just two games as a rookie in 2014 after being signed to the active roster in mid-November. He was then a gameday inactive through December and the playoffs.
This year, he was called up a month earlier, and he recorded his first NFL reception in Week 6 vs. San Diego, a 21-yard sideline grab. He added a second catch following the bye in Denver before his breakout game against the Lions.
His longest catch came early in the fourth quarter, when he went over the middle to haul in QB Aaron Rodgers’ throw for a 24-yard gain to convert on third-and-15. Perillo had Detroit linebacker Tamir Whitehead draped on him and safeties converging from both directions, but he reached up and made the tough grab in traffic.
It was similar to the catch he made in the preseason that led to his concussion, when he took a wicked hit, but like other obstacles, he put that behind him mentally long ago.
“At tight end, you just have to go up and get it across the middle,” he said. “Take the hit and go up and get the ball. It was a great throw.”
He made another catch for five yards on the very next play, and then he showed up even bigger on the Packers’ second TD drive of the quarter.
A handful of snaps after picking up 12 yards on a quick slant from midfield, Perillo ran a crossing route over the middle at the goal line, and Rodgers fired it to him for an 11-yard TD with 32 seconds left, Perillo’s first NFL score.
To have the trust of the two-time MVP quarterback to go to him in a clutch situation like that speaks volumes about his steady development in Green Bay.
“That’s awesome, a guy like that having confidence throwing you the ball,” Perillo said. “You just have to run your route and he’ll put the ball there. I just have to make the catch.”
Easier said than done in a crunch-time situation, and gaining that confidence from the QB isn’t some accident, either.
“In practice, every day,” Perillo said. “It doesn’t happen overnight. You have to earn his trust. I’ve been here for two years now. You just have to work hard every day and he’ll see that. In practice, if he puts the ball there, you have to catch it.”