GREEN BAY, Wis. — Key Green Bay Packers rookie wide receivers Christian Watson and Romeo Dubs will make their NFL debuts in about a week.
Eleven years earlier, Randall Cobb was in the same position. What was Cobb thinking?
“I thought they were going to cut me,” Cobb said.
“Indeed I did,” replied Cobb. “I didn’t know how that worked. Every year I look at it like this. You have to have something to drive you. My fear was always cut off. I have always had this fear. You never know in this business. I’ve seen some crazy things happen. I’ve seen guys get traded right before the season starts.”
Cobb said the last sentence with a meaningful smile. He was traded to Green Bay just before the start of training camp last year.
Being a second-round draft pick, Cobb’s fears were unfounded, of course. A good thing. He had a pretty legendary debut to kick off an excellent career. Facing the New Orleans Saints in the 2011 opener, Cobb caught a 32-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter and added a 108-yard kickoff return in the third quarter.
What’s in store for Watson, an ultra-talented second-round pick who sat out the preseason after knee surgery, and the Dubs, a fourth-round pick who had a hot start to training camp before hitting a few bumps along the way?
Scroll to Continue
Part of a loaded receiving corps in 2011, Cobb didn’t get many opportunities despite his obvious talent. Behind Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Donald Driver on the depth chart, Cobb ranks seventh on the all-time receiving offense with 25 receptions.
Entering 2022, Watson and the Dubs figure to be behind the veteran trio of Allen Lazard, Sammy Watkins and Cobb. While those three receivers aren’t exactly comparable to Jennings, Nelson and Jones, the Packers may not be under tremendous pressure to get Watson and Dubs on the field.
On Wednesday, Aaron Rodgers admired the string of practices Watkins and Cobb put together. And the Packers could go in other directions than the modern base offense of three receivers, one tight end and one running back. They plan to use running backs Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon together in tandem. They figure to use two tight end sets a lot with some combination of Robert Tonian, Marcedes Lewis and Josiah Deguara. With quality backs and tight ends, the Packers can line up with just one receiver at times.
“We have to play our best 11,” Rodgers said. “We can’t wait for the season to start. We will work with these guys in places where they are most comfortable, but the way Sammy is playing, he deserves to be in the first group. The way Kobe played in camp deserves to be in the first group. the way Allen plays when healthy deserves to be in the first group. So these are guys I’m sure we’ll go with. We’re going to work at 87 and 9 to start and go from there.”
For coach Matt Lafleur, it will be finding the right balance. Who gives the Packers the best chance to win in Week 1? Because of their experience, probably the veteran receivers. And because the NFL is such a week-to-week thing, it can be hard to get distracted. But from a big-picture perspective, who gives the Packers the best chance to really explode in the playoffs? Perhaps one or more of the recruits.
“I’m not going to give away the game plan, but I certainly think you’re always going to try to get those guys involved as organically as it turns out,” LaFleur said. “I take comfort in the fact that we have veterans who have played a lot of ball. Every game will be different. I can’t tell you how it will turn out. I have no idea right now.”
Looking back, Cobb pointed to two things from his rookie season. One was stepping up to a limited role to show coaches he was ready for a bigger role. The other knew the role every week. With the season here, the book is much smaller. Only a small fraction of the plays that were learned over the course of the offseason and training camp will be on the weekly menu. Watson and Dubs should know these plays inside and out.
“I think the most important thing is to understand that every play counts and you don’t know which play that play is going to be,” Cobb said. “It could be at any point in the game. Anything can happen. Injuries happen in this league. You should train and be prepared as if you were a beginner.
“You have to be prepared and know whatever role comes up because I could be put in a different position that I haven’t practiced all training camp. So? Nobody cares about that. You have to go out there and you have to compete and you have to know what you are doing. It’s very important. These guys know that. That was a recurring message throughout training camp. We’re talking about potential. Now he’s applying that potential and we’ll see where they take him.”