GREEN BAY, Wis. – While the rest of the world seemed to fixate on Aaron Rodgers’ relationship with Jeff Janis, and whether the Green Bay Packers’ quarterback-receiver tandem will build on the Hail Mary connection they made in the playoffs in January, it has been another third-year receiver who has gotten on an even better wavelength with Rodgers this summer.
“I feel like Jared made enough plays in practice and the last few games [last season] that I have a really good trust in him and his route-running ability,” Rodgers explained in an interview with ESPN Wisconsin’s “Wilde & Tausch” last week. “He’s a guy that has phenomenal preparation. He’s always in the right spot, he has incredible body movements when it comes to not telegraphing routes, and he just finds a way to get open all the time. So, he’s continued where he left off last year and had a phenomenal camp.”
Abbrederis and Rodgers made a near-instant connection when the Packers took him out of Wisconsin in the fifth round of the 2014 NFL draft, with Abbrederis impressing Rodgers with his football IQ and route running. A torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee ended Abbrederis’ rookie season after only a few training-camp practices, and an early camp concussion last year forced him to miss most of the preseason and cost him a spot on the 53-man roster coming out of camp.
But after Packers promoted Abbrederis from the practice squad to the active roster midway through last season, and Rodgers called for him to get more playing time late in the year before expressing confidence in him again as the playoffs began. With a full offseason, Abbrederis continued his growth in the offense and left head coach Mike McCarthy raving about his “exemplary” and “exceptional” play.
With Janis, a fan favorite, now out indefinitely with a broken hand suffered in practice last week, Abbrederis’ chances of making the roster – and growing his relationship with the two-time NFL MVP – have improved. With No. 1 wide receiver Jordy Nelson yet to be activated from the physically unable to perform list, the Packers had been going with Randall Cobb, Davante Adams and Janis in their No. 1 three-receiver set, with Abbrederis occasionally rotating in.
In 34 offensive snaps in the Packers’ 17-11 preseason victory over Cleveland Friday night, Abbrederis was targeted four times by rookie quarterbacks Joe Callahan and Marquise Williams, catching two passes for 23 yards. (Rodgers and No. 2 quarterback Brett Hundley did not play.)
Abbrederis also handled most of the Packers’ return duties, with two punt returns and three kickoff returns, including a pair on post-safety free kicks. His best effort was an elusive 34-yard return late in the fourth quarter after the Browns’ second safety.
“I think he’s doing a great job,” first-year receivers coach Luke Getsy said last week. “He attacks the fundamentals. Every single detail, he knows it. He works his butt off every single day. He works his butt off as hard as anybody on this football team, I think. He does a great job, and it’s been really nice to have him for the full offseason. I think he’s taken advantage of all those opportunities to this point.”
Abbrederis, who caught nine passes for 111 yards in the regular season last year and added six receptions for 69 yards (plus a two-point conversion) in the playoffs, realizes that the most critical thing for him is to stay healthy after some bad injury luck the last two years. While Janis’ season is now in doubt, Abbrederis said he has to do all he can to make sure he stays on the field.
“[I’ve] just got to stay on top of things and make sure I’m available. That’s the biggest thing,” Abbrederis said before Friday night’s game. “I don’t ever focus on numbers. You’ve seen the past couple of years – injuries happen, things happen. You can’t worry about what you can’t control. You just have to control you.
“You just go out there and play. You can’t control anything else. You just control your play and that’s really all you can do.”