Wide receiver Antonio Freeman, who led the NFL in receiving yards with 1,424 last season, earned selection to his first career Pro Bowl and was voted a starter, in addition to being a consensus All-Pro honoree.
With the retirement of fan-favorite, Robert Brooks and the trade of Derrick Mayes to the Seattle Seahawks, the Green Bay Packers face 1999 with an abundance of talented, yet unproven faces in the receiving corps. Although the receivers are relatively low on experience this year, fans can look forward to seeing one mainstay in Wide Receivers Coach Charlie Baggett's crew...1998 Pro Bowl starter Antonio Freeman.
After taking his game to a new level last season, by leading the NFL in receiving yards and earning a starting role in the Pro Bowl, this year he faces an even more daunting task.
"My role on this team is a responsibility that I think I've grown into during my time here," Freeman said. "Being a team leader is something that you work toward your whole career. I understand that I have a big teaching role this year with some of the young guys on our squad," he added.
Although Freeman knows that wide receivers Bill Schroeder and Jahine Arnold posses four years of NFL experience, but players such as Corey Bradford and Donald Driver will need guidance and direction if they are to flourish in Offensive Coordinator Sherman Lewis' system. Given the youth of the receivers, Freeman believes that they could not ask for a better teaching environment than with three-time AP NFL MVP, quarterback Brett Favre.
"These guys will soon understand that Brett does things on the field that not too many people in this game can do. When he's on the field you have to expect the unexpected and understand that anything can happen," Freeman said. "Brett is a risk-taker, but he gets you the ball when the team needs it. Just playing with Brett, these guys will learn so much."
In addition, Freeman says that this year's crop of youngsters will bring an enormous amount of skills to the table, with the main weapon being speed. As well as noticing their strengths, Freeman has also observed areas in which he can assist this year's unit, particularly the mental aspect of playing in the NFL.
"As with this group, most young players need work on their routes, work on their discipline and learn how to read defenses. Reading the defense that lines up against you is probably the hardest thing to do in this league," Freeman said. "To be a great receiver you have to have to be a solid student with films, because that is where you learn to correct your mistakes and learn the tendencies of your opponents."
Freeman has definitely shown that he knows how to read defenses, as his 35 touchdown receptions over the past three seasons are far and away tops among NFL players. He also feels that this year he is embarking on a quest to stay among the elite receivers in the league for many years to come.
"Many receivers can look at a play on paper that says, Do this, do that and think that they can make plays happen," Freeman said. "But the true production of a receiver is measured by how the player responds in a pressure-filled regular season game. Different aspects of a play can always breakdown, making it harder to know what you need to do in order to get the ball in your hands. To be great, I know I need to be able to be where Brett expects me to be."
Entering the year, this former Virginia Tech Hokie stands in 12th place on Green Bay's all-time receiving list with 229 career receptions (for 3,706 yards), compiling the total in less than five complete seasons. This year he hopes to combine the new teaching role that has been bestowed upon him, with another record-setting campaign on the playing field.
"When I'm playing, I fear no one. This year I want to pick up right where I left off. I want to be a team leader and the primary target on this team. In order to accomplish what I want to accomplish this year, I have to believe that I am better than the defender that lines up across from me," Freeman said. "One of my goals this year is to teach that very mindset to the new guys on this team."