Nelson Looks To Build On Strong Start


WR Jordy Nelson does his first Lambeau Leap after catching a TD pass against Houston on Dec. 7.

As the lone rookie in the Packers' 2008 receiving corps, Jordy Nelson often had to make the food run during the afternoon break between practice and meetings, so his fellow receivers had something to eat during their daily card game.

Fortunately for Nelson and the Packers, his first season amounted to much more than being that gang's go-fer.

Nelson made the most significant on-field impact of the Packers' 2008 rookie class, and if a player's biggest jump as a professional is supposed to come between Year 1 and Year 2, then 2009 could be a whale of a season for the young wideout.

To hear Nelson tell it, 2008 was all about getting his bearings in the pro game. With James Jones in and out of the lineup with a knee injury, Nelson got more time as the team's No. 3 receiver than many expected, and that only accelerated his development.

"I was glad to get on the field, get that experience, that way my second year is not my first year still, so I feel good about that," Nelson said.

"I got a full grasp of the offense, and I feel real comfortable. I'm not thinking as much out there, I'm just out there hearing the play and playing football. That's a big step to get to, and when you're just out there relaxed and playing football, you play faster and you're able to make more plays."

Nelson made a big play right away, catching a 29-yard touchdown pass at Detroit in Week 2 for his first NFL reception, and he followed that up with back-to-back four-catch games in Weeks 3 and 4.

But it was around Week 6, at Seattle, when the coaching staff started to notice Nelson "playing fast." At that point, his comfort level was rising rapidly.

He had another four-catch day in the win over the Seahawks, and he went on to get seven more multi-reception games, giving him 10 in all and finishing with 33 catches for 366 yards and two scores.

Like the two receivers who preceded him as rookies in Green Bay - Greg Jennings in 2006 and Jones in 2007 - Nelson received compliments from the coaches on his route-running for a young player. He has established a strong foundation with that skill that bodes well for his future.

"I think it got better throughout the year," he said. "You learn some new routes obviously with a new offense and stuff, so it progressed. That's one thing I look forward to in the offseason is really fine-tuning all those, learning different ways to run them so you're not doing the same thing every time."

The continued work on the route-running will go hand-in-hand with the other parts of his game that need more seasoning.

"Just some fundamental things -- working on releases, getting off the jam, beating press coverage, maybe some separation at the top of the route -- little things like that I think he'll work hard at in the offseason," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. "I have confidence he'll do that. And I think just another year in the system, maybe some more timing and anticipation with the quarterback, all those things will come with time."

As a 23-year-old catching passes from a 25-year-old quarterback, Nelson seemingly has plenty of time.

He feels he developed a good rapport with Aaron Rodgers in their first year together, which is significant because even though Rodgers was in his first year as the starter, he had been a backup for three years and had worked in training camp and practices for a collective eight-plus years with Donald Driver (three), Jennings (two), Jones (one) and Ruvell Martin (two-plus) heading into 2008.

"It's obviously night and day from the beginning," Nelson said of the communication with his quarterback. "That's going to be the way it is, because when you come in, you've never met the guy and then you play a whole year with him. I think that's something that's really grown and really gotten to a good connection. Hopefully that will continue to grow and we'll be able to read each other's minds."

{sportsad300}The coaching staff likes and appreciates Nelson's eagerness to learn and improve, and they expect that to continue into his first professional offseason of workouts. Head Coach Mike McCarthy often refers to "ascending players" in his program, and Nelson definitely fits that bill.

If his arc continues upward, his impact should only increase.

"I think he's very detailed, he's good fundamentally, he has good hands, he's disciplined in his route running, has good speed," Philbin said. "I'm excited about utilizing him potentially more next year and seeing him become even more productive of a player."

Whether or not Nelson has even more competition for playing time in 2009 remains to be seen. With the top five receivers currently on the roster, it would seem unlikely the Packers would add a high-profile receiver this year, but that's what many thought heading into 2008, yet here came Nelson as the Packers' first draft choice, a second-rounder and the 36th overall pick, in April.

Should there be another young up-and-comer brought in for next season, that wouldn't change Nelson's approach to the game. It might even pay immediate dividends for him.

"Hopefully we can get another one in here," Nelson said, "and he can go buy me some food."

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