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Nelson Makes His Preseason Splash


Jordy Nelson is a pretty quiet guy by nature, but even for the mild-mannered Midwesterner, he had been strangely quiet throughout training camp.

Coming off a solid rookie season during which he finished fourth on the team with 33 receptions for 366 yards and two touchdowns, Nelson was looking to take the next step, like almost all players coming off their first year.

But he uncharacteristically dropped a couple of passes the opening week of camp, didn't have a single reception in the first preseason game against Cleveland, and then posted a modest two catches for 23 yards in the second contest vs. Buffalo. Meanwhile, most of the attention among the pass catchers was focused on the return to good health of James Jones and the emergence of second-year tight end Jermichael Finley.

As is normally the case, though, talented players don't have to seek the spotlight. It finds them, and Nelson got his preseason moment to shine last Friday, reminding Green Bay fans why the Packers used the 36th overall draft pick on him in 2008.

Late in the second quarter in Arizona with the Packers leading 24-10, Nelson was split wide right on the first play of the series. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers ran a play-action fake to running back Tyrell Sutton as Nelson sprinted right by Arizona's dynamic young cornerback, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who got caught peeking into the backfield.

Rodgers' deep throw over the middle hit Nelson in stride, and the second-year Kansas State product cruised untouched for a 76-yard touchdown, the Packers' longest play in a preseason full of offensive fireworks.

"Talking to A-Rod later, he told the back and the line to really sell it, and we saw Cover 4 off the bat, so we were hoping they'd bite on it, and they did," Nelson said. "They bit pretty good. That's why I was so wide open.

"I had big eyes when we lined up and saw it was Cover 4, because that's what we want on that play. I knew it was going to be a big one."

A big-play receiver in college, Nelson had to feel like that big one was a long time in coming. He hadn't caught a long TD pass like that since Oct. 6, 2007, a 68-yarder against in-state rival Kansas as a senior. It was his longest TD catch since an 80-yarder as a sophomore against Texas Tech (Oct. 15, 2005), though he also had a 73-yarder that season and a 74-yarder his junior year.

His longest reception as a rookie was a 29-yard touchdown at Detroit in Week 2, his first NFL catch. Later that same game, a scrambling Rodgers tried to go deep to Nelson, but the ball was barely beyond his grasp.

Receivers coach Jimmy Robinson recalled a couple of other instances last year when Rodgers and Nelson just didn't quite connect on deep throws, but he never felt that was due to a lack of big-play ability at this level on Nelson's part. Friday night's breakaway proved that, coming against Arizona's starting defensive unit.

"He had some opportunities down the field last year that would seem to be just out of reach, right on the edge of the fingertips," Robinson said. "He had two or three of those that you'd like to cash in, and maybe this year we'll be able to cash those in.

"He's certainly got the physical tools to be able to catch short, medium and deep, and he's got the speed to go deep."

Robinson was just as impressed with Nelson's first catch on Friday night, however. It was a short throw to the left side, and Nelson broke a tackle attempt by the cornerback to make it an 8-yard gain and get the offense into the red zone.

That play, as much as the big one, showed the progress Nelson has made from his rookie year to his second.

"He's working hard on the footwork and being explosive coming off the ball and playing fast right from the jump, right from the ball snap," Robinson said. "I see a lot of improvement. It really started to come midseason last year, having a feel for running routes and beating the defender rather than just running down the field and turning around."

{sportsad300}The midseason game that jumped out for Robinson was at Seattle in Week 6, when Nelson tied his season highs with four catches and 42 yards and looked more comfortable with the speed and precision of the pro game. Last Friday, Nelson took a few more strides in that direction while getting more in sync with Rodgers at the same time.

"I think just fundamentally detailing his routes, he's a little more precise in what he's doing," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. "I think there's better coordination between him and the quarterback in terms of him being in the right location all the time. We know how critical that is in terms of timing and spacing and those things. He's really moved ahead in those areas."

Overall, Nelson's impressive night in Arizona included three catches for 88 yards and provided a clear indicator that he's ready to contribute to the Packers' high-powered offense once again, or at least be ready to step into a more prominent role if someone goes down.

Last year it was Jones and his injury troubles that thrust more responsibility on Nelson, and he responded. Last Friday it was Jennings taking a blow to the head on the game's opening series and leaving the game.

Having quality receiving depth that includes a player like Nelson is a valuable commodity, and the quiet, team-first Nelson is fine with waiting his turn.

"With this receiving corps we have, and it being preseason, it's tough," Nelson said. "You just have to be patient, and there's a lot more that goes on than just getting the ball. You just have to go out, run the routes you're supposed to run, and when you get the opportunity like I had the other night, you just have to make the most of it."

Nelson certainly would love to see more big-play chances come his way. Then again, so would Driver, Jennings, Jones, Ruvell Martin ...

But no one in this group calls for the ball, and in that way they're all pretty quiet, which makes Nelson and his talent a good fit, even if training camp had been a little too quiet until now.

"There's not enough balls to go around for them, and everybody can't be in the game at the same time," Robinson said. "But when it's all said and done, we'll try to find a way to have everybody be part of what we're doing in some form or fashion and try to spread the wealth around a little bit.

"With our depth, and James being back healthy, we're going to need to find a way to rotate those guys, keep them fresh, and get everybody a piece of the action."

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