GREEN BAY – Aaron Rodgers is a fan of Randall Cobb. He’s just not a fan of seeing the Green Bay Packers rookie wide receiver and kickoff returner lined up at his position.
So while the Green Bay Packers quarterback is happy and appreciative to have Cobb – especially now, as Pro Bowl wide receiver Greg Jennings convalesces following his Dec. 11 knee injury until the NFC Divisional Playoffs Jan. 14 or 15 – at his disposal in the passing game, he’d prefer that coach Mike McCarthy keep using Cobb as a receiver and returner and leave the quarterbacking to him.
“Yeah, I’m not crazy about it,” Rodgers admitted during his weekly radio show on ESPNMilwaukee and ESPNMadison earlier this week. “I get paid to throw the football, and I like to be on the field to be able to do that."
Cobb, who spent a portion of his college career at the University of Kentucky at quarterback, made his debut in the Wildcat formation last Sunday at Kansas City, taking a direct snap and gaining 4 yards on a first-and-10 play on the opening possession of the second half.
“Quite frankly I thought I was going to use it more, but that series ended with the third and inches that we did not convert,” McCarthy explained.
The reason McCarthy and offensive coordinator Joe Philbin unveiled the formation was because they only had one true running back, Ryan Grant, active for the game because of injuries to James Starks (knee/ankle) and Brandon Saine (concussion). Had something happened to Grant, fullback John Kuhn was their last option.
“We only had two running backs up. It was a different way we felt we could get a group on the field,” Philbin explained. “Obviously, a) they hadn’t prepared for it and b) we thought we could run some solid, sound plays. We really weren’t trying to trick anybody, necessarily. (We were just) trying to run the ball.”
But it was what Cobb did in the passing game that should merit him more opportunities. On a day when tight end Jermichael Finley (two) and wide receivers Donald Driver (one) and James Jones (one) dropped passes and wide receiver Jordy Nelson was hit with a pair of rare and suspect offensive pass-interference penalties, Cobb was impressive. He was targeted for four passes and caught all four (to lead the team in receptions) for 53 yards.
While Cobb has had more spectacular plays this season – his 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and 32-yard touchdown catch-and-run against New Orleans in the opener; his 80-yard punt return for a touchdown against Minnesota Nov. 14 – he was exactly what the Packers needed against the Chiefs: Solid.
“I think Randall’s got a real bright future here – not only as a kick return guy, but a guy who can really work in the slot and on the outside as well,” Rodgers said. “I think he did a nice job. He ran his routes really crisply, he had his best offensive game for us in his young career. It wasn’t any big plays like he had against the Saints, but it was just doing the little things right every time, making sure his routes were crisp, he was running at the proper depth, his timing was good.
“I have to give Randall a lot of credit for his preparation. He’s a guy who really cares about it and he shows you by his preparation. He puts in the time, he knows what he’s doing, he picks my brain to make sure we’re on the same page all the time and all the little things you really appreciate from a young player. I think his future is really bright here.”
As for the present, Cobb, who enters Sunday night’s Christmas game against the Chicago Bears at Lambeau Field with 23 receptions for 353 yards and one TD, is certainly capable of filling the void with Jennings sidelined. Similar in stature – Jennings is listed at 5-foot-11, 198 pounds; Cobb is listed at 5-10, 192 – and capable of operating out of the slot and outside, Cobb could find himself with favorable matchups if teams decide to defend the Packers the way the Chiefs did.
“Their game plan looked like it was to double Jermichael when they had a chance – especially on early downs – and double Jordy on third downs,” Rodgers said.
“Anytime you’ve got guys like Jordy and Jermichael, they’re going to get a little more attention,” added Cobb. “So that does open up opportunities for me and J.J. to make plays. And whenever we get those opportunities, we try to make the most of them.”
Playing a season-high 39 snaps, Cobb had a 13-yard catch on the final play of the first quarter; a 16-yard catch on third-and-7 on the very next play to pick up a first down; an 8-yard reception on the Packers’ final series of the first half; and a 16-yard catch during the Packers’ fourth-quarter touchdown drive.
“I don’t know if (Cobb’s production) was a function necessarily of, ‘Randall you go in here and do what Greg does,’ as much as a function of the rotation,” Philbin said. “We were in our three-wideouts (formation) a lot. I don’t know that it was totally by design. But certainly some of (Jennings’ role) he did (fill).
“I thought he played a solid overall game, thought his route-running was pretty good, thought he caught the ball well. We liked what he did. I don’t know, maybe we could have used him more.”
Cobb would certainly be thrilled if they did, but he also understands his role. As a rookie, he came in expecting to contribute primarily as a returner with the Packers’ deep receiving corps, and that’s largely what he’s done. Through 14 games, he ranked fourth in the NFL in kickoff return average (27.5 yards) and sixth in the league in punt return average (11.5)
“I knew being a return man was going to be my first role. They had told me that, so I just took that to heart and tried to make the most of that,” Cobb said. “I knew whenever I would get opportunities at receiver, it’d be here and there.”
Like Jennings, Cobb showed a knack for getting off of bump-and-run man-to-man coverage at the line of scrimmage. He estimated that three of his four receptions came against press coverage and said he learned from Jennings and Donald Driver how to be effective against it.
“Man-to-man, it’s all about your technique, and that’s something I’ve been working on since I got here,” Cobb said.
The Wildcat, meanwhile, was a recent development, and while his quarterback may not like it very much, it could make a return appearance at some point. In addition, it gives opposing defenses something else to prepare for, just as his incomplete pass on a reverse against the New York Giants on Dec. 4 did.
“If it comes to it, if it’s something that Coach Mike and Joe feel like we need to do, then I’m happy with it,” Cobb said. “They sprung that out of nowhere. He mentioned it to me and we put it in and ran it. I didn’t really think we would but that’s something I did a lot of in college, so I had a little fun with it.
“With Greg being down right now, I’m trying to do anything I can to step in and do my job (at receiver). I want to be able to contribute any way I can. That all comes down to the coaching staff and what they think of my performance. If I can continue (to play like) that and be consistent with it, maybe it will (lead to more opportunities).”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today,” and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.