GREEN BAY – Jason Vrable saw it perhaps before anyone else.
Whether it was in practice or in games, the Packers' first-year receivers coach could sense Equanimeous St. Brown's confidence growing – in both his routes and his body – after missing the entire 2019 campaign with an ankle injury.
Even after St. Brown went without a catch during a 31-snap outing against Jacksonville in Week 10, Vrable continued to sing the third-year receiver's praises.
"The ball didn't go to him, but after the game, I texted him when I watched the tape: 'Hey man, this is the standard, the level we need you to play at if we want our group to get where we need to be,'" said Vrable on Nov. 19. "He kind of gave me the thumbs up and said I agree with you."
It probably shouldn't come as much of a surprise St. Brown has responded with two of his best games as a member of the Packers since then, having carved out a role as the next man up behind Davante Adams, Allen Lazard and 2018 draft classmate Marquez Valdes-Scantling.
Two weeks ago, in Indianapolis, the 6-foot-5, 214-pound receiver picked up 23 yards on a receiver screen after facepalming a defender and then hurdling two others down to the Colts' 2-yard line. Aaron Jones scored on the next play.
St. Brown's impact was even more pronounced in Sunday's 41-25 win over Chicago, as he picked up 15 yards on a catch over the middle in the first quarter and converted a first down with a 7-yard end-around in the second. Both drives produced touchdowns.
In the third quarter, with the Packers looking to close the door on the Bears, St. Brown beat Chicago nickel cornerback Buster Skrine on a crosser for a 24-yard gain on third-and-10. After finishing his route to the Bears' sideline, the often-reserved St. Brown took a seat on Chicago's bench and signaled first down.
"I thought EQ had a heck of a game," Head Coach Matt LaFleur said Monday. "He's a guy that is really intelligent. We can move him around, put him at multiple spots. The thing that's been so impressive to me is just he's answered the bell in terms of some of the things that we've asked him to do in the run game, being physical, making key blocks, digging out safeties and then he made some key plays for us with the ball in his hands."
It's been an interesting journey for the former sixth-round pick, who came to Green Bay in 2018 as a 21-year-old rookie after leaving the University of Notre Dame as a true junior.
St. Brown showed promise during his rookie year. After catching five passes for 94 yards in the finale against Detroit, he was expected to compete for a starting job in training camp before a high-ankle sprain landed him on season-ending IR.
St. Brown made a full recovery and was one of two backup receivers the Packers kept on their 53-man roster this year behind the trio of Adams, Lazard and Valdes-Scantling.
"He's come a long way," said Adams of St. Brown. "Him being able to come back in and feel like himself again was a huge part of him having his confidence and going out there and playing like he was his rookie year. (I'm) really proud of the strides that he made."
St. Brown still has had to overcome some adversity in his comeback season. A lingering knee injury sidelined him for three weeks on short-term injured reserve. Even since returning, St. Brown has been a limited participant in practice most days.
Now 124 offensive snaps into the 2020 season, LaFleur and his coaches are starting to see the signs of progress St. Brown showed near the tail end of his rookie season.
"He's a guy that as he continues to show what he's capable of doing and he continues to perform at a high level," LaFleur said. "He's going to get more and more opportunity."