GREEN BAY – Since training camp, everyone associated with the Packers could see the potential in Samori Toure anytime the team stepped on the field.
Like ascending 2022 NFL Draft classmate Romeo Doubs, Toure seemed to be good for one or two eye-catching plays each day in practice throughout the summer.
While it was enough to earn the rookie receiver a place on Green Bay's 53-man roster, there was one thing holding Toure back from taking that next step to the gameday roster once the regular season came around – consistency with his approach in practice.
It led to four-time NFL MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers recently pulling Toure aside after practice and telling the rookie both what he liked about his game – and also where he needed to improve.
Simply put, Rodgers felt Toure was too good to be a healthy scratch like he had been through the first six regular-season games. At some point, the Packers were going to need him and the four-time MVP quarterback wanted the rookie to be ready.
"I had a conversation with him about how I thought it was legitimate, and needed to be a sure thing, that he was suiting up by midseason and playing meaningful minutes for us," recalled Rodgers on Wednesday.
"I felt like his ability level was that, but I said, 'You've got to start practicing better. You've got to show it to us in practice.'"
The rookie knew where his quarterback was coming from, admitting there were times in practice he'd catch a pass and not burst 15 yards downfield as receivers are expected to do.
Head Coach Matt LaFleur occasionally let Toure hear about it, pointing out the rookie looks "real casual out there," while adding "You're never gonna be able to reach your potential if you're not really finishing."
Even as injuries mounted at the receiver position, Toure stayed inactive on gamedays for the first 1½ months of the season.
It was unfamiliar territory for the former All-American who caught 201 passes for 3,386 yards and 25 receiving touchdowns in four seasons between Montana and Nebraska. But it was at that moment Toure knew he needed to make some changes.
"I was just like, 'Dang, that's not what you wanna be known for,'" Toure said. "You don't want one of the greatest quarterbacks thinking you're casual, so I'm like, 'All right, if that's what they think of me, I gotta change something.'"
An admittedly "laid-back" personality away from the field, Toure wasn't trying to slack off at all. He just tends to be a guy who goes with the flow of things.
Working with position coach Jason Vrable, Toure rose to the challenge of being more intentional with everything he did in practice – from the way he runs his routes to how he finishes every drill, Wednesday through Saturday.
Toure's hard work was rewarded with his first NFL regular-season appearance, and start, against Washington two weeks ago. He only caught one pass, but Vrable lauded him afterwards for his professionalism and enthusiasm.
When Christian Watson exited early with a concussion this past Sunday in Buffalo, Toure stepped up for an offense that was already playing without veteran receivers Allen Lazard (shoulder) and Randall Cobb (ankle).
A testament to the work he's put in, Toure's first NFL touchdown came on a 37-yard pass from Rodgers off an extended play. Running a post in the middle of the field, Toure noticed Rodgers scrambling while Commanders safety Damar Hamlin stayed on his outside hip.
Feeling Rodgers extending the play, Toure looked up field, found an open spot on the field and followed his route to the end zone. Rodgers hit Toure in stride for a picturesque TD, a ball that was still residing in the rookie's locker Thursday.
"He's done a nice job maturing and understanding just what the expectations are and the standards that have been brought from that room in the past," LaFleur said. "I think those veteran receivers have been hard on him. I know Vrable's done a great job with him, but I think we've all seen him progress in that regard in terms of how he goes about his practice."
Like LaFleur, Rodgers told reporters on Wednesday that he, too, has noticed Toure's practice habits pick up over the past three weeks. While there's still plenty for Toure to clean up, his performance on the extended play is another sign of progress.
It remains to be seen what Toure's role will be this Sunday when the Packers travel to Detroit after both Lazard and Watson returned to practice in a limited capacity this week, but the rookie plans to stay locked moving forward.
"I'm just trying to get in anywhere I fit in," Toure said. "Just like I was before, whether I have a big role, small role, I'm just going to prepare like I do every single week and just try to maximize my opportunities."