GREEN BAY – Jordy Nelson has had plenty of opportunities to ponder just how far he’s come in the past year. The Green Bay Packers burgeoning star just hasn’t bothered to do so.
“I’ve had time (to reflect), but I don’t know if I’ve done it,” Nelson with a smile last week. “When the season is over, I go back home and don’t think about football for a while. As much as people talk about refreshing the body, I think you have to refresh the mind as well.”
While Nelson hasn’t done it, we’ll happily look back on what a year it’s been for the humble fifth-year wideout: As the Packers get set to kick off their annual organized team activity practices Monday – one of the many offseason exercises wiped out by last year’s lockout amid the labor strife between NFL owners and the NFL Players Association – Nelson in the past 12 months has gone from a curiosity, a player who many predicted was ready to make a jump, to a bona fide rising NFL star at one of the league’s glamor positions.
Of course, Nelson’s not much for that sort of attention – although he did join Twitter during last week’s Tailgate Tour (@JordyRNelson) after vowing never to do so – and would much rather simply toil in relative anonymity.
That’s not going to be easy for him to do anymore. After catching a total of 100 passes for 1,268 yards and six touchdowns in his first three NFL seasons, Nelson caught a team-leading 68 passes for 1,263 yards and an eye-popping 15 touchdowns last season. While Nelson’s performance in Super Bowl XLV (nine receptions, 140 yards, TD) seemed to portend a breakthrough season in 2011, no wide receiver in football made more out of his opportunities (he was targeted just 96 times, dropped only two passes for a 97.1 catch percentage and his 18.6-yard average ranked second in the NFL among receivers with 50 or more receptions.
“Jordy is a perfect example of a guy who was given more opportunities last year and performed outstanding,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “We’ll keep moving him around, probably play him in the slot a little more than he’s played in the past. Those are the kind of things we continue to look at, give him more matchups, expand his route tree where he’s maybe more of the focus. Not that he can’t run those routes, it’s more about having the opportunity because statistics speak for themselves.
“I don’t really count reps with those guys. But I view Jordy as a starter. He was given starter opportunities last year.”
Those opportunities should only grow, although so will the attention. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers has said time and again that he’ll throw to the open guy, and the way Nelson figures it, it’s up to him to be that guy as often as possible.
“My expectation is to go out and play well every week. At our position, I don’t think you can set a goal that, ‘I’m going to have 1,200 yards,’ because a defense can double-cover you every game and might not even catch a ball,” Nelson said. “You could be out there and be the second read and Aaron hit the first read, so I just want to go out and prepare well, and do what I’m supposed to do and make the most of it, and hopefully that will continue.”
Nelson has been participating in all phases of the offseason program, which moves from Stage 2 to Stage 3 with the start of OTAs. The first open-to-the-public OTA practice is Tuesday at Ray Nitschke Field. For the 26-year-old Nelson, getting back to work is a welcome opportunity after the team’s season-ending NFC Divisional Playoff loss to the New York Giants put an abrupt end to the Packers’ playoff hopes after their impressive 15-1 regular season.
“We had obviously had a great year on the offensive side,” Nelson said, referring to a unit that scored the second-most points in a season in NFL history. “We put up points and yards, and everything. It’s just amazing how quick it can end. You have to play your best ball at the right time and we played one of our worst games at the wrong time. That’s just how the game is.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today,” and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.