GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Randall Cobb looked down at Jeremy Lane sprawled upon the Green Bay Packers' sideline, beyond the first-down marker. Lane, the Seattle Seahawks cornerback, had been beaten for a 14-yard gain and then bounced off Cobb as he tried to make the tackle. And when he got to his feet, Cobb met him face mask-to-face mask -- presumably to deliver a brief commentary on what had just transpired.
By NFL taunting standards, this was a mild case. Nonetheless, it was enough to draw a 15-yard penalty -- essentially wiping out what the play had accomplished.
It was an out-of-character moment for Cobb, who isn’t the trash-talking type. But after back-to-back frustrating, injury-plagued seasons, perhaps it was more cathartic than contemptuous. Cobb has spoken openly about how he believes he’ll have a big year if he simply stays healthy, and his performance in Sunday’s 17-9 season-opening victory over the Seahawks was the kind of start he was seeking.
“Randall said it the other day -- and I don’t want to speak for him, but -- if he’s healthy for 16 games, he’s going to put up the numbers he’s always put up,” fellow wide receiver Jordy Nelson said. “He’s hit some rough patches the last couple years of being a little banged-up and missing some games. That’s more of an issue there than what he’s able to do.”
Cobb caught just 60 passes for 610 yards and four touchdowns last season, when he missed three games with hamstring and ankle injuries, resulting in his least-productive season since missing 10 games with a broken leg in 2013. Healthier for the playoffs, Cobb caught five passes for 116 yards and three touchdowns in an NFC wild-card victory over the New York Giants.
Cobb’s 2016 disappointment came on the heels of a 2015 in which he caught 71 passes for 829 yards and six touchdowns -- respectable numbers, but not enough for a team that was without Nelson all season because of a knee injury, and a far cry from his 2014 production (91 receptions, 1,287 yards, 12 touchdowns). Those 2014 numbers had led to a four-year, $40 million contract, which expires after the 2018 season.
Cobb has been understandably frustrated by the past two seasons, although he insists the goal of 2017 isn’t for it to be a “bounce-back” year, per se. He also said he’s not worried about offseason additions Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks reducing his role in the offense by leading to more two-tight end sets.
That certainly wasn’t the case Sunday, as Cobb led the Packers in targets (13), receptions (nine) and receiving yards (85). And while Bennett and Kendricks did see action, the Packers’ most-used personnel group on offense was composed of three wide receivers (Nelson, Cobb and Davante Adams), one tight end (Bennett) and one back (Ty Montgomery).
“Just trying to get open, trying to make the plays when they were there,” Cobb said simply. “We had opportunities, and [I] just tried to make the most out of them.”
If quarterback Aaron Rodgers has his way, there’ll be plenty more of those opportunities to come.
“I thought Randall was great. He’s sometimes a forgotten guy in the mix, especially with the way Davante played in training camp and Jordy’s pedigree and the stuff he’s accomplished,” Rodgers said. “But Randall is a great football player. He’s very reliable. He ran a number of great routes [Sunday] to get open, and he just made some really heady plays for us.”
The Packers shuffled their offensive personnel throughout the game, certainly more than they did early last season, when what they call their “11” personnel was prevalent until coach Mike McCarthy decided to mix it up more. Even if McCarthy decides to utilize more two-tight end sets starting with next Sunday night’s game at Atlanta, Cobb surely will be a factor, as long as he’s healthy.
“We all benefit from one another,” Nelson said. “We know the more weapons we get on the field, the more opportunities we get, the more one-on-one matchups we get. You’ve just got to go win your matchups. [Cobb] had some big plays for us -- big plays early. He’s a guy that can take a 5-yard catch and turn it into 50 in a heartbeat. For somewhat of a smaller guy, he’s extremely physical and takes a lot of pride in what he does.”
Editor’s note: Jason Wilde covers the Green Bay Packers for ESPN Wisconsin and hosts Wilde & Tausch with former Packers offensive lineman Mark Tauscher weekdays on ESPN Milwaukee and ESPN Madison.