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Packers receiver Malik Heath gearing up for another tough battle

Intense competition at his position is a given

WR Malik Heath
WR Malik Heath

GREEN BAY – Malik Heath will have another tough fight for a roster spot on his hands this summer, but the second-year receiver isn't about to start backing down now.

"Oh, it's going to be competitive," Heath said of the upcoming battle in his position group. "We've got a lot of receivers, a lot of great DBs over there on the other side of the ball. It's going to be fun."

For all the talk about the Packers' depth at receiver – with Christian Watson, Romeo Doubs, Jayden Reed, Dontayvion Wicks and Bo Melton, all in their second or third NFL seasons, enjoying major standout moments last year – it's easy to overlook Heath.

But the undrafted prospect who made the Packers' 53-man roster as a rookie in 2023 spent last week's minicamp reminding everyone he's still in the mix, too. He made his share of grabs in 11-on-11 work, including a toe-tap touchdown in the back of the end zone in a red-zone rep with QB Jordan Love and the No. 1 offense in the first practice.

The play provided a brief flashback to Heath's biggest moment as a rookie, when he snagged a clutch TD at the pylon with two minutes left on Monday Night Football in December to give the Packers a (short-lived) lead over the Giants.

It came on third-and-goal, one snap after Heath thought he had his first NFL score on an end-zone reception over the middle, only to have it knocked away at the last possible moment by a New York defender. There was no time to wallow in disappointment, though.

"Rome came up to me and was just like, 'Pick your head up, you're going to make a play, next play,'" Heath said. "They trusted me to go make another play. It was an all-out blitz, and J-Love just had to get it out. I was ready for it."

Having that trust meant everything to Heath, who wound up with 15 catches for 125 yards in 13 games on the season, with four receptions for 46 yards coming in his breakout game on Thanksgiving in Detroit.

He dropped a pass here or there, too, as they all do, but he had bounced back similarly quickly against Kansas City with a 15-yard catch-and-run to move the chains right after a drop. So Love had no qualms about going right back to him with the game on the line against the Giants and the rush closing in.

"That was the best option we had for that play, but at the same time, I was very confident Malik was going to win that 1-on-1 matchup," Love said. "Because he's shown so many times he has that ability, that if you throw it up, he's going to go up and make a play. He's got aggressive hands and attacks the ball."

This spring, the 6-foot-2 Heath felt faster and more explosive, too, trimming down from 220 to around 215 pounds through an offseason workout and diet regimen. He has sensed the difference on the field, and that combined with a greater command of the playbook has ratcheted up his confidence.

"I think physically he's in a much better place," said Head Coach Matt LaFleur, who also lauded Heath for his blocking ability and willingness to do "dirty work."

"He knows the offense a heck of a lot better, so it allows you to play faster and you can move him around a little bit more."

All the growth and development serves to help Heath put a difficult past further behind him. While he's proud of his humble Jackson, Miss., roots and a football path that saw him go from Copiah-Lincoln Community College (Wesson, Miss.) to the Southeastern Conference, at Mississippi State and eventually Ole Miss, he went undrafted largely due to off-the-field baggage and an uninspiring 4.64-yard time in the 40-yard dash.

He also endured a harrowing brush with death in a seatbelt-less car crash 2½ years ago that collapsed both his lungs, broke his entire rib cage and ruptured his liver. That preceded his first football career reset, when he transferred to Ole Miss for his final college season facing a zero-tolerance policy for off-field issues.

Green Bay provided another reset with, again, no margin for error, and Heath has passed all those tests and then some. His aggressive nature on the field, as both a route runner and blocker, stood out and began carving his path.

"Coming in as undrafted, I'm going to do anything I gotta do, you feel me, to make this team, to make plays for my team," he said. "That's just what it comes (down to), being a goon, being a dog. Gotta be that in this league, you know."

The Allen Lazard "goon" reference puts him in pretty good company when it comes to Packers undrafted receivers. Given the tough odds facing Heath and all he brought with him, to his credit his only low point as a rookie was being a gameday inactive for four early-season weeks and both playoff contests due to the "numbers game" he acknowledges is ever-present at his position in Green Bay.

That's not going away come training camp, but Heath is as prepared as he can be.

"I gotta keep stacking days, you know, keep making plays, keep battling," he said. "That's all."

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