At the outset of training camp, Packers' GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman said that he was concerned about finding a fourth receiver to complement his big three of Donald Driver, Robert Ferguson and Javon Walker.
Sherman also made it clear that he wanted to see Antonio Chatman prove to be more than a kick return specialist. Chatman worked exclusively returning punts and kickoffs during his rookie season of 2003, but the coach stated that he'd need to expand on that role in order to occupy one of the valuable spots on the 53-man regular season roster.
At 5-foot-9 and 184 pounds, Chatman has been considered by some to be too small to be a factor in the Packers' passing game. However, the speedy former Cincinnati Bearcat has impressed the coaches with his work at wideout thus far in training camp, and Saturday night against the Saints, he took his show under the lights of Lambeau Field and stepped up with a big performance.
With Ferguson missing the game with a hamstring injury, Chatman stepped on to the field early in the first quarter against the Saints when the Packers went to a three-receiver set. On Green Bay's third play of the night, Chatman created some separation in the secondary and quarterback Brett Favre found him for a 31-yard gain up the right sideline.
Chatman really felt the improved performance he has been showing on the practice field was finally sparking the confidence of the future Hall of Fame passer. Like so many that have come before him, Chatman has had to prove to his quarterback that he can be depended on.
"I think I'm starting to get his confidence," Chatman said. "He's starting to throw me the ball now. Once he threw me the first ball, my confidence went up. I knew he had the confidence in me to throw me the ball in a tight situation."
Favre proved that he wasn't afraid to look for the diminutive in a key situation. As the Packers were working in their two-minute offense late in the second quarter, Favre zipped a third-down pass into traffic. Chatman jumped into the air and snared the ball for a 30-yard gain, and gained the respect of many on the Packer sideline in the process.
"I thought he was making some great plays today," said Favre. "For a small receiver, he sure played big today. I was really impressed with the way he stepped up tonight."
Chatman's two catches for 61 yards led the team on the night, and Sherman was quick to mention the former Arena League standout when asked who has impressed in the running for the number four spot in the receiver rotation.
"I think tonight that Chatman jumped out there and made two key third down catches," Sherman said. The one in the two-minute was just one heck of a catch. I think he might have earned the confidence of his quarterback at that point. He jumped out of his shoes for that play. I thought he did a nice job."
Chatman welcomes the chance to expand on his role with the team, and says he's always considered himself a receiver first, and a return man second.
"I loved being a receiver before I loved returning punts," he said. "I just love catching the ball because I think I can do something with it every time I touch it. As a receiver, it's easier, because once you catch the ball and make one or two guys miss, you can score. On punts, you've got 10 other guys you've got to make miss."
If he continues to put up performances like he did Saturday, he'll have the chance to make a lot more of them miss down the road.