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Allen Lazard returns to practice for Packers, ready to 'get back on the tracks'

Veteran receiver on the mend from ankle injury as Week 2 prep for Bears begins

WR Allen Lazard
WR Allen Lazard

GREEN BAY – An optimistic Allen Lazard wasn't guaranteeing he'd return this week and confessed he'd probably be a game-time decision Sunday night.

But getting back on the practice field Wednesday on a limited basis from his ankle injury was a strong first step toward making his 2022 debut, and the Packers' No. 1 receiver sees no reason he can't pick up where he left off as training camp concluded.

"I felt very positive, very strong, about my ability, and still do about the rest of the year going forward," Lazard said after Wednesday's practice. "Obviously, (it was) just a little mishap and (I'll) get back on the tracks from here."

The mishap was getting stepped on by a defensive lineman during a practice two weeks ago, and it kept Lazard out of practice all last week.

He hated sitting out the opener at Minnesota because he loves the atmosphere at U.S. Bank Stadium, calling it his favorite road venue, and he missed the same game last year (which the Packers also lost) due to a different injury. The only positive was he didn't make his ankle any worse.

Given his new status within the receiving corps and the offense's struggles against the Vikings without him, Lazard will have a fairly bright spotlight on him when the Bears visit Green Bay on Sunday night.

He insists he doesn't feel any added pressure, though, because he's never been bothered by what he's had to overcome, which has included not being drafted, as well as getting released and relegated to the practice squad by both the Jaguars and the Packers before finding his footing in this league.

"I'm going to go into this game the same way I have the past few years," he said. "Obviously a first game itself is a little bit more emotions and higher energy and everything, just because I haven't played in a preseason game and all that good stuff.

"But I've been here for the Packers for so long, we're playing here at Lambeau, it's just a nostalgic feeling going out there. I know what needs to take place when I step on that field at Lambeau. It'll just be about getting my mental right and going out there and executing."

Last year, Lazard was the offense's most productive receiver behind Davante Adams, setting career highs with 40 receptions for 513 yards and eight touchdowns. He finished the regular season especially well, scoring five TDs over the final five games and eclipsing 70 yards three times.

As rookies Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs made their NFL debuts last week, and veteran Sammy Watkins made his Packers debut, it was only a partial transition to the new era without Lazard as the leading man.

"It's always good having him out there, the talent," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said of Lazard's return to practice. "But it's the leadership part that you miss when he's not out there."

Lazard did what he could from the sideline in Minneapolis, coaching up the rookies to play fast and not be hesitant with their routes. Because from his experience, that can make Rodgers indecisive, throwing off the timing of plays and turning his eyes elsewhere just before someone might break open.

He also tried to keep Watson's spirits up after he dropped a would-be 75-yard TD pass on the Packers' first offensive play. Lazard tried to keep it light, but also real, for the second-round speedster in the immediate aftermath.

"I was like, 'It's a drop. Who cares? Stereotypical first play of your NFL career – a go ball that you let go through your hands,'" Lazard said, repeating the tongue-in-cheekiness before turning to the more serious message. "'Yeah, it sucks right now, but you're going to get a thousand more opportunities to be able to capitalize so don't dwell on the moment and stay positive and know that 12's going to come back to you.'"

As a receiver who's always been further down the depth chart prior to this year, Lazard knows of what he speaks regarding readiness for whenever Rodgers might come one's way.

It's how he got where he is, from one game and one reception in 2018 to an expected go-to target now, so there's no need to change his approach as his new year begins. He's also been a No. 1 receiver before, in high school and college, even when question marks came along with the label then, so that's nothing new, either.

Consider him as ready as he'll ever be, as long as his ankle cooperates.

"I think (it's) just confidence, never doubting yourself, never taking a play off," he said. "Never being content with, 'Oh, I'm back side on this play,' or, 'Oh, he'll just never throw it to me on this play.' Just always expecting it, always wanting the ball, always wanting to have that moment in the play that determines whether it's a positive or negative, or goes from a 15-yard gain to a touchdown or whatever.

"I've always taken pride in my work, like I've always said, and to do the best that I can to help the team win."