At first it didn’t seem so bad; Jordy Nelson made a routine catch that he’s made a thousand times before, and then he dropped to the turf. It seemed innocent enough at the time as Nelson even stood up on his own and limped off the field under his power.

By now, you should be aware that this optimistic and largely biased first impression, was, indeed, quite wrong. It is that bad. Nelson is out for the year with a torn ACL.

Yes, Jordy has established himself as an elite wide receiver in a league full of them, and he is obviously a very integral part of the Packers’ success on offense. But, the time to panic is over. NFL rosters are handcrafted to respond to injuries, even ones of this magnitude. Ted Thompson has made a living filling out the back of his rosters and finding talent from the scrap heaps around the league. Now, the task is up to head coach Mike McCarthy and his coaching staff to adjust for Nelson’s absence.

Before the injury, there were talks of a potentially historic offensive output in Green Bay. That now seems like a distant fantasy, but those were already lofty expectations to begin with; the Packers still have the makings to have a very good offense. Let’s take a look at their strengths and examine a few ways they can adjust for Jordy’s absence this season.

The Heroes in the Trenches

The line was able to stay healthy last season, but there have been some injuries in training camp to Bryan Bulaga (ankle), David Bakhtiari (knee), Josh Sitton (ankle), and T.J. Lang (concussion). Not only have those players not been healthy, they have not been able to play together during an important time to practice before the season begins.

Luckily, these five guys know each other well and have played together for a full year. Not to mention, this is the best offensive line the Packers have had since the Clifton-Wahle-Flanagan-Rivera-Tauscher years. They need to stay healthy to buy Rodgers as much time as possible and to open up lanes for Lacy and Starks. It’s that simple. Even with a few serviceable backups on the roster (Don Barclay, JC Tretter), a significant loss here makes the situation a lot murkier.

The Running Game

The Packers’ offense has been consistently great since Rodgers’ second year under center, but drafting Eddie Lacy two seasons ago has been the catalyst to take it to new scoring dimensions. Lacy was a revelation as a rookie, and then worked hard to improve his all-around game as a sophomore. In fact, he’s been so consistently solid in his short time as a pro that it’s easy to forget he’s only entering his third NFL season. The Packers need Lacy to get better again this season if they want to keep moving the chains.

Even before the Nelson injury, Lacy was probably the second most important player in the Packers’ offense. His ability to extend plays, wear down defenses and catch balls out of the backfield means that opposing coaches can’t focus on only stopping Aaron Rodgers and company. His role, and subsequently that of James Starks, is now even bigger. Lacy needs to draw a lot of attention from defenses to take some of the added pressure that is now on Randall Cobb, Devante Adams and the rest of the Packers’ young receiving corps. If he’s able to make another leap (and obviously a few Lambeau ones along the way), Rodgers will have less to make up for in the passing game.

The Sophomores

Davante Adams is clearly the most important piece of this entire situation. Adams had a solid rookie season, displaying his great athleticism and playmaking ability once he became more comfortable in the offense. He also proved he’s not afraid of the spotlight and had huge performances against New England and in the playoffs against Dallas. After receiving heaps of praise from his coaches and teammates in the preseason, much of the Packers’ faithful was expecting a big improvement from Adams. Now, the expectations are even higher.

Adams fits the mold of an outside receiver, and the degree to which he can ‘replace’ Jordy will ultimately dictate how far the Packers’ offense can go. It’s impossible to expect him to develop the same chemistry that Nelson and Rodgers have delicately crafted, but he should still be able to produce at a high level. He has loads of potential and now has had a lot more time in Green Bay to get comfortable in the system. Lacy and Cobb will take some of the pressure off Adams, and Rodgers will literally put the ball exactly where it needs to be nine times out of ten. The rest is up to him. A similar leap from Adams like Lacy made from his first to second seasons should ensure the Packers are still a dominant offense.

The other, less-heralded sophomore receiver is tight end Richard Rodgers. Rodgers, a third-round pick out of California last season, is a wide receiver turned tight end. At 6’4” 245 lbs, he’s the right size to play the position, but last year he lost a lot of snaps to Andrew Quarless due to his blocking deficiencies. Rodgers may have earned the starting job outright, but due to some offseason transgressions by the incumbent Quarless, Rodgers will be thrust into a starting role. If he can improve off a decent rookie season, the Packers will finally have a solid receiver at tight end for the first time since Jermichael Finley’s neck injury.

Rodgers has shown flashes of potential, especially against Dallas in the NFC playoffs. He also has received praise from his coaches this offseason, but none of that matters until opening kick off. He has good hands, so if he can continue to improve his blocking and route running, Rodgers will find ways to get him the ball. He is, however, still young and somewhat raw, so even with an expected improvement, it’s not likely he gets more than 45 receptions. Still, the Packers struggled to finish in the red zone last year, so if Rodgers can provide a threat down there, he’ll be very important.

The Unproven Ones

Although it was obvious Adams would be ‘replacing’ Nelson, it’s still up in the air how exactly McCarthy will go about replacing Adams’ spot. There are several options, and no clearly obvious answer, so this will probably be something that takes several weeks into the regular season to fully figure out. At first, it might be a little painful as these receivers go through the growing pains of adjusting to the pace of the NFL, but patience will be key here. There’s plenty of talent waiting to prove itself behind Cobb and Adams.

As of now, it looks like Ty Montgomery, Jeff Janis and Myles White have all but locked up the final three receiver spots, although there is a small chance that the Packers keep six spots available to wide outs in the wake of the Nelson injury. If that happens, it’s probably going to be a battle between Larry Pinkard and hometown favorite Jared Abbrederis, but I’m not going to focus on them. Since none of Montgomery, Janis or White has a significant edge over the rest, and because they all have varying skill sets, I think the best solution is for the Packers to essentially rotate between the three of them for the third and fourth receiver spots.

I’ll start with Ty Montgomery, the speedy rookie receiver out of Stanford. Montgomery was originally drafted to improve the Packers’ dreadful special teams unit from last year, but it’s clear now that he’ll be receiving a decent number of snaps. His tantalizing open-field abilities have Packers coaches salivating at the notion of getting him the ball in open space. This means we’ll probably see him line up all over the field, including in the backfield. His skills don’t really translate to lining up outside the numbers, but he seems to be the perfect slot counterpart to Cobb. Still, I expect the Packers to put the ball in his hands often and I expect McCarthy to try and find unique ways to get him involved in the offense. As of now he seems to be third on the depth chart.

Next up is Jeff Janis, someone I’ve been really excited about every since he fell to the Packers in the seventh round in last year’s draft while being a projected third- or fourth-round pick. At 6’3” 219 lbs, Janis has the perfect build to line up outside the numbers (Jordy is 6’3” and 217). He has good athleticism, solid speed and soft hands and has looked pretty good in both of the last two preseasons. He will have his growing pains along with the rest of the group, but his skill-set makes for the easiest transition to playing in three wideout sets, which the Packers love to do. This is his opportunity to prove he has a future with the Packers, and if he can capitalize on it, then Nelson’s absence won’t feel as daunting.

Finally, we have the scrappy Myles White. White has the advantage of being on the roster the longest, and he has also had a solid preseason. White is a deep threat with good hands who can also line up all over the field. He should at least be on the same page with Rodgers having been in Green Bay for a few years. Even though he projects as the fifth receiver, he may receive more snaps to start the season while the young guns get used to the pace of the NFL. I predict (and hope) that McCarthy will use a combination of these three receivers to best utilize their unique skill-sets.

Randall Cobb

I know what you’re thinking. I still haven’t even mentioned Randall Cobb’s role in all of this. Honestly, I don’t expect his role to change all that much. Cobb will still run the vast majority of his routes out of the slot, and he will still give defenses hell trying to keep up with him. But the Packers know how important he is to their success, and they saw a glimpse of life without Jordy and Cobb and it scared the crap out of them (and me), which is why they should be careful in not putting too much of an extra workload and burden on Cobb if they can help it. I still think he should get a few more snaps in the backfield, and it’s probable that he jumps from 90 to 100 receptions this year, but outside of that, I don’t think there’s too much more production the Packers should be asking from Cobb. Keeping him healthy is more important than force feeding him five more targets each game.

Only time will tell how this injury affect’s the Packers’ offense this year. Still, if things fall into place, there’s no reason this team still can’t field a top-five offense. Rodgers is coming off his second MVP and is still the best player in the NFL, and he now has a bit of a chip on his shoulder from last year’s playoff meltdown. With a top-seven running back and offensive line, arguably the best slot receiver in football and a slew of young talent waiting to explode, this team is still incredibly deadly.

As a wise man once said: R-E-L-A-X.


Image

Advertisements