Jared Abbrederis must continue to earn keep in Packers' offense

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Jared Abbrederis isn’t taking anything for granted.

Yes, the Green Bay Packers included him on their annual “Tailgate Tour,” on which he’ll criss-cross the state this summer as part of the team’s traveling pep rally. (You wouldn’t invite a player who’s not in your plans for next season, would you?)

Yes, coach Mike McCarthy said at the NFL Meetings last month that the team won’t bring back veteran wide receiver James Jones, who led the Packers in receiving yards last season. Instead, McCarthy said, the team is moving “forward with the younger guys” at wide receiver, a group that includes Abbrederis.

And yes, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has been among Abbrederis’ biggest supporters, having called for him to get more playing time late last season and expressed confidence in him again before the playoffs began. (Rodgers has actually liked him since the team took the former Wisconsin walk-on in the fifth round of the 2014 draft.)

Even with all those factors in his favor -- and after catching nine passes for 111 yards during the second half of last season after being called up from the practice squad -- Abbrederis knows he must earn his keep and prove he deserves an expanded role in the offense beginning with the team’s offseason program, which kicks off April 18.

With No. 1 wide receiver Jordy Nelson coming off a torn anterior cruciate ligament that cost him all of last season, and second-year wideout Ty Montgomery (ankle) not expected to be ready for action until training camp, Abbrederis and fellow third-year man Jeff Janis figure to get ample work this offseason.

“I think the biggest thing is just being consistent and build off of last year,” Abbrederis said during an appearance on ESPN Milwaukee earlier this week. “At the end of the year I started getting some more opportunities, so you just take advantage of the opportunities you get -- especially early on in practice [at organized team activities and minicamp] and especially with some of the guys still coming off injuries from last year."

After the first quarter of their season-ending NFC Divisional playoff loss at Arizona, the Packers were without their top four wide receivers from the start of training camp: Nelson, Randall Cobb (punctured lung suffered in the game), Davante Adams (inactive with a knee injury) and Montgomery.

As a result, Rodgers targeted Abbrederis 12 times in that game. While Abbrederis finished with only four receptions for 55 yards, it was confirmation that he has a niche in the Packers’ offense.

That is, as long as he can stay healthy.

Abbrederis missed all of his rookie season with a torn right ACL, then missed most of the preseason with a concussion suffered on the first day of training camp. He returned in time for the preseason finale but was among the team’s final cuts and landed on the practice squad.

And when Abbrederis finally got his chance in a Nov. 15 loss to Detroit in which he had his first NFL reception and caught four balls for 57 yards, he suffered broken ribs on a hit at the end of a 32-yard catch-and-run.

Abbrederis only missed two games, returning to action before the ribs were fully healed.

“Availability is huge in this game, obviously. So if you have an injury you think you can play with, you’ve just got to be able to tough it out and make it happen,” Abbrederis said. “Obviously there was some pain, but you have to fight through that, try to play your best and be available. That was huge for me, just because I missed so much time my first year and then in [training] camp, so I just didn’t want it to keep me out.”

That approach also won him more respect from Rodgers, whose trust has been difficult for other young players to earn. Now, Abbrederis is aiming to continue proving himself to his quarterback.

“It’s hard to gain someone’s trust, but it’s really easy to lose it. Hopefully I can keep that going,” Abbrederis said. “You just have to earn that trust every day. I think I can do an even better job.

“You’ve got to earn his trust before you even get on the field with him or he’s not going to have you out there. So you have to make sure you know everything. You’ve got to do it in practice, but then he’s got to see you do it in a game. The first time I was out on the field, I was open right away, [but] he didn’t throw it to me. But the next time, I was open, he looked at me because he saw what I did earlier in the game.”