Nelson's patience, concentration pay off for Pack
GREEN BAY, Wis. — It happened to James Jones in the season opener. Against Carolina on Sunday, it was Jordy Nelson — at least until he made a play to put the game away in the fourth quarter.
Even Greg Jennings experienced the feeling in the early part of last season.
With so many talented receivers and tight end Jermichael Finley on the roster, there are only so many passes to go around in the Green Bay Packers' offense. It's a nice problem to have, but receivers are bound to end up feeling like they deserve a little more attention from Aaron Rodgers.
Packers coaches have a simple answer: When you do get the ball, make the most of it.
"We say it all the time in our room, especially with the rotation we have with the five guys," Nelson said. "You've got to make the most of your opportunity. You just do. Because you don't know if you'll see one ball or 10 balls. When you get one, you better make the most of it."
It's hard to imagine any player sticking to that script better than Nelson did last week. After a quiet afternoon, Nelson caught a short pass from Rodgers and turned it into an 84-yard touchdown at a critical point in the game.
Nelson said it's challenging for a receiver to maintain his concentration after not seeing much action for three quarters.
"You need to focus on the ball more when the first ball you see is in the fourth quarter," Nelson said. "A lot of people don't realize, it is a little more difficult to catch it then, because you haven't seen it all game. The last time you saw it was warmups."
Nelson's largely fruitless afternoon on the field ended in the end zone on Sunday, but other Packers receivers have bristled when they began feeling ignored.
When Jennings felt he wasn't seeing enough passes early last season, he took it out in a brief sideline outburst on then-wide receivers coach Jimmy Robinson; Jennings apologized, saying his competitive nature briefly got the best of him.
And after Jones caught one pass for 1 yard in the season-opening victory over New Orleans, he made it known that he wanted to at least be on the field for more snaps than he was against the Saints.
Rodgers has tried to diffuse any tension by saying that he'll simply throw the ball to whomever is open. In the wake of Jones' comments, Rodgers told reporters that he hopes they won't make an issue out of whichever player ends up being the "low man on the catch totem pole" every week.
Meanwhile, coaches want players to want the ball — but hope they find ways to contribute no matter what happens during a game.
"We tell the guys every Saturday before a game that a player, in his own mind, if he's dressing, has to figure out how he can contribute most to the team, and contribute to the success of our unit," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said recently, in the wake of Jones' comments. "We want guys that want to play, we want guys that want to contribute."
And even when they're not catching passes, they can make blocks for teammates — like Jennings did on Nelson's touchdown against Carolina.
Jennings said it felt great to spring Nelson free with a big block, and hinted that the receivers could make more of an effort to do the same thing for running backs.
"Quite honestly, we have to take more pride in it when the running backs have the ball," Jennings said. "But when it's one of our guys, you take ownership thinking about, 'What if that was me carrying that ball.' But you can't pick and choose who you do it for. You have to do it for everybody."