Healthy Jennings, Newcomer Jones Should Boost Passing Game

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While much has been said during the offseason about the wide receiver the Packers didn't acquire, last weekend's minicamp put significant focus on two offensive weapons that have been added to the passing game since the end of the 2006 season.

One is Greg Jennings, or a healthy Greg Jennings that is. That's a weapon the Packers didn't have for the final 10 1/2 games last season.

The other is James Jones, a third-round draft choice who was doing his best to impersonate the 2006 second-round pick, Jennings, at least as far as first impressions go.

Though he never used the ankle injury sustained in Miami in Week 7 as an excuse, Jennings clearly wasn't the same player from then on in his rookie season. Because of other injuries and youth at the position, his return to the field just two weeks later was a sign more of the team's need for his skills, even at less than 100 percent, than the fact that he was actually healthy.

But the bum ankle is long behind him now, and Jennings looked like his old self at this past weekend's minicamp, cutting and coming out of breaks smoothly and at full speed.

"He's back," Head Coach Mike McCarthy said after the first minicamp practice. "I think you're going to see an improved Greg Jennings. He's more mature, he's stronger. You can see that in his body."

Despite playing in eight straight games after missing just one (vs. Arizona, Oct. 29) with the ankle injury, Jennings wasn't really full strength until the final week of the season, according to McCarthy. And then he didn't even play in that final game, missing it to be with his wife for the birth of their child.

Should Jennings remain healthy this season, his offensive contributions are likely to increase from last year, when he was still named to Pro Football Weekly's All-Rookie team despite less production later in the year.

Through the first five games last season, Jennings had 20 catches for 364 yards and three touchdowns, including two 100-yard games. Beginning with the Miami game, when he was hurt late in the second quarter on a 14-yard catch over the middle and missed the rest of the contest, Jennings had 25 catches for 268 yards and no TDs over the final 11 games.

"Greg is a great receiver, he's a young guy that knows he can play this game," veteran Donald Driver said. "He stepped up last year. I think if he wouldn't have gotten hurt last year, he probably would have had 1,000 yards."

{sportsad300}Projecting his healthy statistics over a full 16-game season, Driver is right - Jennings would have 64 catches for 1,165 yards with nine TDs and six 100-yard games. Pair that with another solid season from Driver, who has posted three consecutive 1,200-yard seasons, and the Packers should have a productive starting duo.

"We feel there's enough weapons, and I'm one of those weapons, hopefully," Jennings said. "I definitely think we're going to be a better offense than we were last year.

"We have a lot of young guys. Myself, I have a year of experience, so I have something to build off of, and I know what to expect, and so do some of the other guys."

One of those young guys still learning what to expect is Jones, who has made a favorable first impression similar to Jennings last season.

While it would be unfair to Jones to heap those kinds of expectations on him, he does exhibit a physical development to his body and a fluidity to his movements that suggest a maturity beyond his rookie status. Backup quarterback Aaron Rodgers noted he was impressed with Jones' hands and his body control, already reading his body language as far as how he runs his routes.

"He always catches the ball extended away from his body," McCarthy said. "That's what you're always trying to teach young guys, and he does it extremely natural. I think the young man has a bright future."

McCarthy said similar things about Jennings in the early going last year, but it's too early to take the comparisons any further. Jennings came to Green Bay as a three-year college starter with three 1,000-yard seasons, whereas Jones was a full-time starter only last year at San Jose State.

But he also comes in with no worries about competing for a starting job, which should help him maintain his confidence even if he drops a pass or two like he did in the final practice on Sunday.

"I definitely take pride in catching everything with my hands," Jones said. "I don't let too much hit my body.

"Since college I've believed I could be a good NFL receiver. To come up here and get coaching from these guys and see how everybody plays and see what it takes to be up here, I'm getting it."

Like Jennings, Jones also is certain to benefit from battling against veteran cornerbacks Al Harris and Charles Woodson regularly in practice. He said he was teased by Harris during one of Saturday's practices for pushing off and "using that college technique," but that's all part of the learning process, and he's already using Driver and Jennings as teachers in that respect as well.

"They've been giving me a couple tips and reminders, how to beat certain defenses and things like that from what they've seen," Jones said. "It's definitely a help because I'm still doing it the college way. It's definitely a help to get in here and play against the guys and see how fast this stuff is going to be."

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