GREEN BAY – If the biggest leap a player makes is from his first to second season in the NFL, the Packers offense stands to benefit a great deal.
As rookies, center Corey Linsley, receiver Davante Adams and tight end Richard Rodgers all played significant roles for the NFL’s top-scoring offense in 2014.
Should their development in year two mirror that of 2013 rookie standouts Eddie Lacy and David Bakhtiari in their second seasons, and with the entire starting offense returning intact, there’s no telling what Aaron Rodgers and Co. might do.
“We have a chance to be great,” said Lacy, who was challenged by the coaching staff to become an every-down back in 2014 and responded, adding more pass-catching and pass-blocking prowess to his game.
“That’s starting fast, finishing strong and doing that the whole season. We have the guys to do it.”
It starts up front, where the Packers saw Bakhtiari progress from a rookie fill-in to a franchise-type left tackle last season. Linsley was thrust unexpectedly into a starting role the same way, due to an injury, and he fit in seamlessly on a veteran line that Mike McCarthy called the best of his tenure.
Provided it stays healthy, the 2015 unit ought to usurp that top ranking as long as Linsley’s game continues to advance as planned.
“Each player has a laundry list of things that need to improve, and he has his areas,” said offensive line coach James Campen, without delving into specifics. “He has a lot of room to grow, and he’ll make that jump.”
The expectations are the same for pass catchers Adams and Rodgers, whose impact made the difference in two of last season’s biggest wins, over New England in Week 13 and Dallas in the NFC divisional playoffs.
Adams came of age in the Patriots game as the Packers took advantage of his matchup in the New England secondary and he caught six passes for 121 yards. He topped the century mark again versus the Cowboys, changing the game with a 46-yard catch-and-run TD late in the third quarter on third-and-15. His seven catches for 117 yards in that game were franchise playoff records for a rookie.
“We’re really proud of his development last year, his ability to come on and be a playmaker for us halfway through the season and on,” new receivers coach Alex Van Pelt said. “We just want to continue to see him grow as a player, become more detailed in everything we ask him to do.”
Van Pelt added that growth is measured by a reduction in mental mistakes and route-running errors, and he has seen Adams already this spring making the adjustments he needs to.
Rodgers’ biggest change needs to come with his run blocking, which was up-and-down coming off a final college season at Cal as a wide receiver. Tight ends coach Jerry Fontenot is using OTAs as a time to focus on those fundamentals.
Fontenot described Rodgers’ pass blocking as “solid” and said the route-running for a 257-pound tight end is “just in him.” That natural ability was on display when he hauled in a 32-yard TD catch against New England, and when he found openings a couple of times with the quarterback buying time.
Rodgers’ season-long 43-yard catch came on a scramble play in Chicago, and then he was available for a needle-threader for the go-ahead TD in the fourth quarter against the Cowboys in the playoffs.
“It was more of an extended play where Aaron flushed out of the pocket and saw him,” Fontenot said of the 13-yard score that beat Dallas. “I think it was a huge boost to his confidence, the quarterback being able to trust him. That’s also in the equation.”
It could all add up to something special in 2015.
“The goal is to always improve, each and every guy,” new offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett said. “That’s how we approach the job at hand, and that’s really been the mindset since day one.”