GREEN BAY – Allen Lazard was looking for a little redemption midway through the Packers’ preseason opener against Houston last Thursday.
Backup quarterback Tim Boyle told the first-year receiver all week he was going to get Lazard a “good ball” after Boyle had missed him during the first two weeks of training camp.
A man of his word, Boyle looked Lazard’s way on the first two passes he threw after entering the game in the third quarter at the Houston 3-yard line – and both fell for incompletions. As did a deep ball intended for Lazard on the next series, though it still produced a 40-yard penalty for defensive pass interference.
“He threw me three balls on Thursday and I missed them,” said Lazard with a smile. “So I owed him that fourth one, for sure.”
That fourth one was a magnificent 27-yard touchdown pass from Boyle to Lazard with two minutes remaining in the third quarter. Lazard ran a skinny post from the right side and used his 6-foot-5, 227-pound frame to box out Texans cornerback Lonnie Johnson for his first NFL touchdown reception, albeit preseason.
The former Iowa State standout came into the league last year as an undrafted free agent with Jacksonville. He spent the first 15 weeks of the season on the Jaguars’ practice squad before jumping at an opportunity to sign to the Packers’ 53-man roster.
A summer spent learning Head Coach Matt LaFleur’s system is starting to pay dividends for Lazard, who’s been showing up more on both offense and special teams over the past week.
It wasn’t just the Texans touchdown, either. Lazard was all over the practice field on Sunday, displaying an extra gear after catching a slant in a team period amid several receptions.
“Allen's done a great job, and again it starts in the practice,” LaFleur said. “He always brings energy, he always brings great effort. It certainly showed itself in the game. All you gotta do is turn on the kickoff cover and he's the first guy down there every time. We're gonna reward guys that go hard and are what we want to be about. He's earned those reps.”
The idea his efforts on special teams are what have earned Lazard opportunities brings a smile to the receiver’s face since it’s not something he ever really did at Iowa State.
An ISU legacy who grew up in Urbandale, Lazard followed in the Cyclone footsteps of his father and brother, becoming a four-year starter in the process and one of the most decorated receivers in program history. He finished as the Iowa State’s all-time leader in receptions (241) and receiving yards (3,360).
Lazard returned punts for three years but rarely played on the Cyclones’ coverage units aside from a handful of games early in his true freshman season. After going undrafted, however, Lazard knew he’d need to stand out in the third phase to survive.
“I’m very determined to make the team, obviously,” Lazard said. “For an undrafted guy, I think special teams is basically the only way you can make the team. I kind of learned that last year in the role I would need to play on the team. I focused on that this offseason and really studied it, and honed in on my techniques.”
Offensively, Lazard is one of several young receivers looking to distinguish themselves at one of the deepest positions on the roster. While each one brings something different to the table, Lazard’s size and catch radius set him apart in the room.
When asked at what point he realized his size could be an asset as a receiver, Lazard jokes, “Probably third grade.” The truth is he’s always been bigger and taller than his peers. To that point, a handful of NFL teams in the pre-draft process even talked with Lazard about possibly moving to tight end.
He was open to it – anything to win and make his NFL dream a reality – but the Jaguars and Packers felt he had the toolset to make it as a receiver despite lingering questions about his speed.
“For whatever reason, people have always doubted my speed,” Lazard said. “But hey, I guess I’ll just have to prove them wrong. Nothing new.”
Lazard knows he can’t let up now. There are too many good receivers in his room to get complacent. Sure, last week was fun but Lazard also points out two missed assignments that have been on his mind since the Texans game.
His pursuit of perfection continues today in practice at Ray Nitschke Field and in Thursday’s preseason game in Baltimore. LaFleur wants to see high effort from the young players vying for roster spots. From Lazard’s perspective, say no more.
“I have big goals for this year,” Lazard said. “We know Davante (Adams) has his spot, but everyone else, we’re all fighting for playing time and those other plays. The competition in our room gets better every single day. They’re the reason my level of play has elevated.”