The Green Bay Packers have been making their assistant coaches available to the media throughout this week leading up to the start of OTAs next Monday, and on Thursday it was the offensive assistants’ turn to answer questions. With the Packers needing to find players to step up at the wide receiver position, that group’s primary coach had some intriguing comments about a few potential contributors — in particular a second-year pro and a newly-acquired veteran.
Vrable started his comments out by saying that he likes the competitiveness in the receiver room, then complimented a few young players for their development over the course of this spring. “I’ve seen Malik (Taylor) and Juwann (Winfree) and Amari (Rodgers), who look night and day compared to what they did last year. I think it’s all the way they worked in the offseason, the way they understand the playbook and the way they’re flying around out there. It’s a totally different speed.”
That’s a promising sign for the depth of this group, particularly if Rodgers can become a substantial contributor after a rookie season that too often saw him relegated to exclusively punt and kick return duty. Rodgers lined up for just 103 offensive snaps in 2021, catching four of eight targets for 45 yards and picking up 11 yards on his only rushing attempt.
Vrable was blunt about the reason for Rodgers’ limited opportunities last year: he simply wasn’t good enough.
“I don’t give Amari the out that (Randall Cobb) was here. It’s your job to beat Randall out or beat our Z out. Even though he plays slot, I’ve got him working out at Z and he’s done that before. His performance just wasn’t on their level. That’s just the reality of it, right? It wasn’t that he was bad, but he wasn’t doing the high-level things that Randall was doing or the Z, Lazard.”
For Vrable, Rodgers’ confidence is the factor that needs to change the most, and as he noted, it’s not just verbal confidence, but comfort level and familiarity with the playbook and route concepts that are crucial. That appears to be coming along for the former Clemson receiver, as Vrable said he already looks faster and stronger than he did as a rookie.
Furthermore, he’s been spending plenty of time working on his technique, presumably with mentor and family friend Randall Cobb. “His route-running is already cleaner and crisper,” Vrable said. “I feel really good about Amari. Cobby bumped me the other day and was like ‘Yo, you can feel it from him.’ And I just smiled and was like ‘It’s just the start right now. We’ll see where it’s at when the pads come on and the lights go on.”
Another of Vrable’s charges this offseason is Sammy Watkins, who signed a free agent deal with the Packers some weeks ago after a stint with the Baltimore Ravens last year. Vrable was on the Buffalo Bills’ coaching staff in 2014, the same year that Watkins entered the league as Buffalo’s first-round draft pick, so the two have some history together.
In fact, Vrable’s past experience with Watkins made him the front office’s pick to help write up scouting reports on the wideout when he has been a free agent in the past. “(I) told them I’ve been with Sammy, I know how he can catch, I know how strong he is, (I know) a lot of the good things he can do because I was with him for that time.”
Among the factors that Vrable emphasized multiple times is Watkins’ ability to catch the football. “One thing you’ll see with him is he plucks the ball different. He has hands that are like, you’ll hear the pluck.”
Perhaps more so than his physical tools, however, Vrable went out of his way to focus on Watkins’ maturity, something that shone through when the two got together for dinner during his free agent visit to Green Bay this spring.
“We went out to dinner, we got to talk, catch up, got to hear about his three kids ... his maturity has just been exceptional. He was just a young rookie before, now he’s a grown man with a family, living life the right way and doing as much as he can to get back to another Lombardi.”
Hopefully Watkins and Rodgers will be able to form a strong connection with the other Rodgers on the Packers’ roster. If that happens, that should help answer one of the biggest questions remaining about whether this Green Bay team really is a top contender to bring back one of those Lombardi Trophies to Wisconsin.