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Focus must combine with flash for Packers' young receivers

Posted Aug 15, 2014

Tight end competition hitting high gear, too

GREEN BAY—Splash plays have been made by all.

Alex Gillett’s Superman impersonation to leap around cornerback Demetri Goodson and energize the entire Packers offense that morning at Ray Nitschke Field won’t soon be forgotten. Nor will Jeff Janis’ lunging, one-handed TD grab over Sam Shields, or Chris Harper’s 38-yard catch and run in Tennessee last week.

Comb through the training camp notes, and it doesn’t take long to find stars next to Myles White, Kevin Dorsey and Gerrard Sheppard somewhere, too.

As these six young receivers, however, battle for at most two roster spots – and quite possibly only one – a key ingredient sought by position coach Edgar Bennett has been hard to find. Consistency.

Those training camp notes have too many “drops” next to all these names. In Monday’s practice, it was almost an epidemic. Even Janis, who has made the strongest push this week with a pair of diving catches across the middle, flubbed one during a two-minute drill.

The competition hits the unofficial midway point on Saturday with the second preseason game in St. Louis. Plays still need to be made, but they can’t be missed, either.

“Young guys, without a doubt, they’ve got to be more consistent,” Bennett said. “It starts in the classroom, the how part, and then working our fundamentals on the practice field, using the proper technique when it applies.

“We have to do it every single time, and that’s the standard.”

That’s not to suggest the Packers are just looking for a “steady Eddie,” because being able to make the big, “wow” play matters. But you can’t have one without the other.

Against the Rams, a lot of eyes will be on Janis, the rookie seventh-round pick from Division II Saginaw Valley State. His bout with shingles kept him on the sideline for last week’s game, which has him champing at the bit for his first preseason action.

Head Coach Mike McCarthy said earlier this week that Janis “makes a play every day he’s out there” at practice. Now it has to carry over to the games, reliably.

“Like our coach says, if you can do it in practice, you can do it in a game,” Janis said. “Hopefully that’s the way it works out. I’m definitely excited about this weekend.”

Another key factor in the receiving competition will be special teams. Whether it’s as a potential returner, punt gunner or kickoff cover man, the last receiver or two on the roster must be able to contribute to the third phase.

McCarthy mentioned that the coaching staff is focused on spreading out the special teams reps in Saturday’s game to get all the looks they need. The young receivers will be in that equation.

“The more you can do, the more value you bring to the football team,” McCarthy said. “It’s something that weighs into it. That’s why we have these preseason games.”

The search for the starting tight end also continues amongst Andrew Quarless, Brandon Bostick and rookie third-round pick Richard Rodgers. Their position coach, Jerry Fontenot, said the tight ends are responding to the “competitive juices” at practice.

Bostick has made the most noise lately. A solid week of practice followed a noteworthy two-play sequence in last week’s game, when he shook off a holding penalty that wiped out a long run by DuJuan Harris and came back on the very next snap to make a Jermichael Finley-esque play. He caught a short pass in the flat, powered easily through two tackles and picked up 24 yards.

Those events showed the value of focus and a short memory, and seeing the 6-3, 250-pounder lumbering down the field reminded quarterback Aaron Rodgers of “the big fella.”

“He had some burst, he had some explosion,” Fontenot said. “We put a big emphasis on yards after contact in our room, because that’s really where we can make a difference.

“Guys that make the catches they’re supposed to make and just get the yardage they’re supposed to get, those guys are very plentiful in this league. It’s (about) the guys that set themselves apart by breaking tackles and gaining extra yardage.”

The younger Rodgers gave himself a solid preseason debut to build on, making some key blocks in the running game and snagging a 10-yard pass for a first down. He’s sure to get more chances in the coming games.

“Just catching anything the quarterbacks throw is how you gain their trust,” he said. “If they can trust you to catch the ball whenever they throw it, then they’re going to want to throw it to you more often.”

The veteran Quarless appeared to take a week to get his legs under him after missing the entire offseason, came on strong for a run of practices but has been quiet of late. Fontenot is drawing no conclusions, though, on him or any of the others, not with three preseason games to go.

“Sometimes your opportunities come in waves,” Fontenot said. “The guys know there’s a lot of talent in that room, and you’ve got to play at your best in order to have a chance to get more. Everybody is answering the call. Now, it’s just a matter of doing it in game-type situations, and we’ll see how things pan out from here.”

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