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Halfway there: Packers' Jordy Nelson not all the way back from ACL tear

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Jordy Nelson couldn't have understood it before this season, but now that he's back after his recovery and rehabilitation year following his torn ACL, he gets it.

Eight games into his return, the Green Bay Packers receiver knows why there's a familiar refrain among players (other than, say, Adrian Peterson) after they've come back from an ACL reconstruction surgery: As good as it may feel to be back on the field, it's not until the second year back that things return to normal -- if they ever do.

"Yeah, and until you experience it you probably don't know," Nelson said this week as he assessed his comeback. "Hopefully we're having that conversation next year."

At age 31, Nelson's top-end speed may never return. At this point, it appears he doesn't run as well or come out of his breaks as sharply as he did in 2014, when his 98-catch, 1,519-yard, 13-touchdown season led to his first Pro Bowl selection.

But it may not be Nelson's right knee, the one he blew out on Aug. 23, 2015, that has held him back.

"I think it's more just your body getting back to normal overall," Nelson said. "If you take a year off from the game, the grind of the season, the recovery every week, all that I think is more part of it than the actual knee I would assume."

A check of Nelson's numbers heading into Sunday's game at Tennessee shows he's on pace for the fourth 1,000-yard season of his career and his third double-digit touchdown year. He ranks second among all NFL receivers with seven touchdowns, which matched his career high for the first eight games of a season.

The deep ball hasn't quite come back for Nelson, yet. He had a 58-yarder against the Falcons in Week 8 but has only two other catches on balls thrown at least 30 yards in the air, according to ESPN Stats & Information, and just one for a touchdown. In 2014, he had nine catches on such throws, including six for touchdowns.

"Still playing at a high level, still can't let him get behind you," Tennessee Titans coach Mike Mularkey said this week. "Big, fast receiver that obviously there's a huge trust factor that they have over their career, the two of them. You know, tough to defend."

Mularkey, of course, was referring to Nelson's connection with quarterback Aaron Rodgers. They surpassed the 50-touchdown mark together earlier this season, which puts them behind only Brett Favre and Antonio Freeman in the Packers' QB-WR records.

It would be a mistake to underestimate Rodgers' role in Nelson's comeback. Their lengthy and successful history together surely remains in Rodgers' mind as he goes through his progressions play after play. It's why Nelson has more targets (71) than anyone else on the Packers despite ranking just third on the team with 38 catches.

"It's really trust," Rodgers said. "It's based on a lot of reps over the years in game situations and then a lot of things we've done in practice and talk about. We just have a lot of faith in each other where, if he gets to a spot the ball's going to be where it needs to be."

All along, Nelson insisted he wouldn't base the success of his comeback on catches, yards or touchdowns. Even though he's on pace for 76 catches, 1,018 yards and 14 touchdowns, he remains committed to another method of evaluation.

"It's more about the level of play on the field," Nelson said.

"To me, it's been all right. I'd like to be more consistent with what I'm doing, but I don't know if that's from having a year off and getting back or what. I'm still working at it. I'm halfway through. We'll see how it is at the end of the year."