Notebook: Nelson Providing Spark Lately

Whether or not he turns into a secret postseason weapon remains to be seen, but the Packers must like what they’re getting out of receiver/returner Jordy Nelson lately. - More Mike McCarthy Press Conference Transcript - Jan. 7

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Whether or not he turns into a secret postseason weapon remains to be seen, but the Packers must like what they're getting out of receiver/returner Jordy Nelson lately.

The second-year pro capped a strong final three games of the regular season with two big plays in last Sunday's finale in Arizona. First, he hauled in a career-long 51-yard pass down to the 1-yard line late in the first quarter to set up a Green Bay touchdown. Then he bobbed and weaved his way through a 54-yard kickoff return late in the fourth quarter, also a career best.

That marked the first time since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970 that a Packers player had both a pass reception and kickoff return of 50-plus yards in the same game.

"I've seen just a consistency and a confidence," receivers coach Jimmy Robinson said of Nelson. "I just think when he is out there he plays fast and he plays confident. Whenever he is in there and he gets an opportunity, he takes advantage of it. Very rarely does he not, so we feel great about him when he is in the game."

Maybe it's something about University of Phoenix Stadium, which would bode well for Sunday's NFC Wild Card playoff game. Nelson had a 76-yard TD catch there when the Packers and Cardinals played in the preseason back in August.

Location aside, though, Nelson's offensive production has been notable for a No. 3 or 4 receiver over the last three games. In Pittsburgh on Dec. 20, Nelson established a career-high with 71 yards receiving on four catches, two of them for 27 and 24 yards.

Then the following week vs. Seattle, he had just one catch for 17 yards, but he also drew a 36-yard pass interference penalty that set up a score.

Combine that with last Sunday's performance, plus 41 yards on four punt returns over the last three games - a 10.25 average nearly twice his season average of 5.3 - and Nelson could be coming on at just the right time.

"I think No. 1 he's got good vision, and he's a big body and long-legged guy, so he really runs faster than he appears," special teams coach Shawn Slocum said. "You can see he separates from guys at times. You see that when he runs routes and caught the deep pass, so that's an advantage for him."

Slocum emphasized that he's looking for more production on punt returns, but he does appreciate Nelson's consistency on kickoff returns. He hasn't broken many big ones, as his only other one before last Sunday that went 40-plus was a 46-yarder in the season opener (though he did run the opening kickoff in Week 6 back 99 yards for a score, only to have it nullified by a penalty).

But to have a solid 25.4-yard average that isn't skewed by several long ones speaks to his reliability. That average ranks sixth in the NFC and 11th in the league.

"He's been steady," Slocum said. "We've gotten the ball outside the 20, and that's No. 1, and anything after that is a bonus. The guys are starting to grow together in that the blockers are getting confidence that Jordy is going to hit the holes, and Jordy's got confidence the blockers are going to protect him. So I think as a group they're doing well."

Long drought

While most of the Packers with playoff experience were part of this team's postseason run two years ago, two players are returning to the playoffs for the first time in five years - linebacker Brandon Chillar and running back Ahman Green.

Chillar was a rookie with the St. Louis Rams in 2004 when he made his playoff debut, playing mostly on special teams in two games. Meanwhile, Green, who returned to Green Bay this year after a two-year stint in Houston, appeared in the playoffs with the Packers four straight years (2001-04) after also going with Seattle in his second NFL season, 1999.

"It's been a while, but I'm glad to be back," Green said. "I'm fortunate enough to be in the playoffs more than five, maybe six times. A lot of people can't even say that for their career. Some guys that played three years have been in the playoffs all three years. Some guys have played 15 years and never made it to the Super Bowl, or the playoffs period.

"I'm one of those fortunate guys along with a few of the guys on the team, because you know the hard work it takes to put in to get to this point. Now it's basically hard work paying off and carrying over to a one-game-at-a-time philosophy."

As a veteran of the postseason, Green acknowledged he's one of the players who has to impart on the playoff newcomers the intensity to expect and the nature of the opportunity in front of them. But he also believes in players staying loose as they prepare and not spend the week all buttoned up.

"I think it's the best thing," he said. "I've been in playoff situations and I think being tight is sometimes a bad thing.

"A lot of teams don't get to do what you do. There's 32 teams and now it's 12, so I say have a good time but also know what you're doing, know your assignments."

Props to a teammate

Packers rookie outside linebacker Clay Matthews finished third in The Associated Press Defensive Rookie of the Year voting earlier this week, with the award going in a landslide to former USC teammate and fellow linebacker Brian Cushing of Houston.

Cushing received 39 of a possible 50 votes. Buffalo safety Jairus Byrd was second with six votes, and Matthews was third with three.

"I congratulated him before he actually won the award, just because I knew it was coming his way," Matthews said. "He had a fantastic year and had some great numbers to back it up. He's going to obviously represent our college well in the Pro Bowl. I'm very happy for him, and if I had to lose to anybody, it's a great thing that it's my teammate."

{sportsad300}Matthews topped Cushing in sacks, 10 to five, but Cushing (an inside linebacker) posted an impressive 133 tackles to Matthews' 58 and had the better turnover statistics with four interceptions and two forced fumbles to Matthews' three fumble recoveries and one forced fumble.

"Fortunately next year the stats are going to be wiped clean and we'll start over again and battle once again," Matthews said. "That's what it's all about in this league is competing with one another."

Injury/participation update

Five players on the Packers' injury report were upgraded from limited to full participants in practice on Thursday. They were tackle Chad Clifton (knee), defensive ends Johnny Jolly (foot) and Michael Montgomery (ankle), nose tackle Ryan Pickett (hamstring) and cornerback Charles Woodson (shoulder).

Woodson explained that his shoulder "just hurts" but it's something he's been battling for some time. He said he is not wearing a shoulder harness like the one he wore for a portion of the 2006 season, his first in Green Bay.

"I just deal with it," he said. "I'll be ready."

Chillar (back) and fullback Korey Hall (elbow) were full participants for the second straight day, while safety and special teamer Derrick Martin (ankle) sat out again.

Meanwhile for the Cardinals, two members of their starting secondary returned to practice on a limited basis after sitting out on Wednesday. Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (knee/toe) and safety Antrel Rolle (thigh) were back on the field, and reports out of Arizona indicated Rodgers-Cromartie did more work of the two.

Also for the Cardinals, tight end Ben Patrick (head) was upgraded from limited to a full participant, but guard Deuce Lutui (back) sat out after being limited on Wednesday.

Among other starters for the Cardinals, wide receiver Anquan Boldin (ankle) did not practice for the second consecutive day, while defensive end Calais Campbell (thumb) was limited once again.

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