GREEN BAY – Allen Lazard had a plan for how to approach the most important offseason of his football career.
After years of training in Phoenix, the Packers' fourth-year receiver flipped the script this summer and returned home to Iowa instead.
It was music to the ears of his mom, Mary, who often jokes with Lazard that "we don't see you enough." But the 6-foot-5 receiver also made the switch to ready himself, both mentally and physically, for a high-stakes 2022 campaign.
"That's where my roots are," said Lazard, a native of Urbandale who starred for four seasons at Iowa State. "Being in this fourth season and everything, obviously I wanted a new contract and extension, I'm going into free agency next year, so let me go back to where everything started.
"(Iowa) is really where I found myself as a man, a kid and my identity as a player and as a person as well."
A four-star recruit, Lazard followed in the footsteps of his father, Kevin, at Iowa State. While the Cyclones didn't enjoy much success during his college career, Lazard was part of the program's turnaround under current head coach Matt Campbell.
In addition to family, it was friendship and loyalty that drew Lazard back to Ames this offseason, where he worked out at the school's facilities and spent time with the football team.
If that wasn't enough, Lazard also hosted his first football camp on July 16 in nearby Alleman, Iowa, for 350 children, whose ages ranged from 7-16.
It was something Lazard always wanted to do. Coming off a career-best season in which he had 40 catches for 518 yards and eight touchdowns, the ascending wideout felt it was finally time.
"I never had that as a kid growing up," Lazard said. "There were no celebrities or professional athletes from my area. If they were, they didn't really come back. I never got to have that interaction. That's something I really yearned for as a kid was being able to have that guidance. Even Iowa State, no one from the NFL would come back. That's because we didn't have anyone."
Along with the returning Randall Cobb, Lazard is positioned to be one of Aaron Rodgers' top targets this season following All-Pro receiver Davante Adams' trade to Las Vegas in March.
A restricted free agent himself, Lazard opted to stay in Iowa throughout the Packers' offseason and, since he hadn't signed his restricted tender, wasn't required to attend minicamp in June.
Any concerns about possible rust were quickly absolved on Wednesday, as a lean-and-determined Lazard jumped right back into rhythm with Rodgers and the first-team offense.
The fourth-year receiver was responsible for the play of the day when he leapt over safety Adrian Amos and eventually corralled a 50-yard ball from Rodgers that banged off his leg on descent. Defensive coordinator Joe Barry enthusiastically congratulated Lazard after the play, mixing in a few choice words in jest.
"Since his first day here, he's turned heads, so it's not surprising for him to go out and have a really consistent day today," Rodgers said. "He has a lot to prove, I think, to himself and other people and maybe to the team as well. So I like a hungry Allen Lazard and it will be an adjustment for us, but I'm happy with Day 1."
Lazard has had some big moments during his first three seasons with the Packers, including breakout 100-yard performances against the New York Giants (2019) and New Orleans (2020).
His versatility and blocking prowess have made the 26-year-old receiver a great fit for Head Coach Matt LaFleur's scheme. After three seasons of complementing Adams and the passing game, Lazard could be in for a promotion in 2022.
"I'm excited to see what he can be for us in a different role," said General Manager Brian Gutekunst, who signed Lazard off Jacksonville's practice squad at the end of the 2018 season. "Allen's a confident guy. Every time we've given him opportunities, he's produced. So, with these new opportunities, I'm excited to see him grow and develop. But I think sky's the limit for him."
All offseason the Packers have reiterated how it'll take a village of skill-position players to replace Adams, who was targeted 731 times over the course of his five Pro Bowl seasons.
As a pending free agent with hopes of landing a long-term deal with the Packers, Lazard is aiming to prove in the weeks and months ahead that he has what it takes to be the guy.
"I've never wavered on the belief in myself and being able to step up," Lazard said. "Obviously when Davante was here, his talent is extreme. It's tremendous. Undoubtedly, he's the best wide receiver in the league right now and probably will be for a while. That doesn't mean I'm far behind him from that standpoint."