Nelson’s return marks red-letter day for Packers

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McCarthy excited by offensive weapon’s return; defense quietly effective in preseason
Jordy Nelson’s long-awaited, much-anticipated return is at hand.
The Packers’ wide receiver worked at individual drills in full pads during Monday’s practice at Ray Nitschke Field. Nelson didn’t wear a knee brace and he didn’t have anything resembling a limp while running routes and doing drills.
In honor of Nelson’s return today here are several observations:
The Packers’ offense isn’t back to top-shelf form merely because of Nelson’s return. If anything his absence didn’t prove that the Packers’ offense can’t dominate without Nelson. It proved that the Packers’ offense can’t dominate without all of its key weapons.
The distinction is slight but worth noting.
The Packers have no excuses where Nelson’s return is concerned. In fact, they are in a much better place than a year ago when the organization was blindsided by his season-ending knee injury.
This time the Packers have tight end Jared Cook, a legitimate weapon to attack the middle of the field. They also have a healthy and deeper offensive line, plus a rejuvenated running back in Eddie Lacy.
They also have a healthy and highly motivated Randall Cobb, an ever-improving Jared Abbrederis, Davante Adams on a mission and a healthy Ty Montgomery in the mix, plus a legit speed threat in Trevor Davis.
That’s a lot.
Interesting, here is a column I wrote on June 9, 2014, regarding Nelson and the Packers’ receivers. It was in part a response to criticism that the Green Bay receivers were “average.”
Let me trot out some numbers on Nelson:

  • Nelson led the NFL with 19 catches of at least 25 yards last season. Denver’s Demaryius Thomas (17), Philadelphia’s DeSean Jackson (16) and Cleveland’s Josh Gordon (15) and Chicago’s Alshon Jeffery (15) trailed him.
  •  Nelson’s 30 touchdown catches since 2011 are the fourth-most by a receiver in that span. He trailed only Dallas’ Dez Bryant (34), Detroit’s Calvin Johnson (33) and Denver’s Eric Decker (32).
  • Since 2011 Nelson’s 17.2-yards per catch average is second behind only Tampa Bay’s Vincent Jackson (18.2) for players with 100-plus catches.
  • Nelson also is a big-game player. He is only the fourth receiver in Super Bowl history to have at least nine catches, 140 yards and a touchdown in a game. Nelson did that in the victory over Pittsburgh.
  • The 6-foot-3, 217-pound receiver hauled in 85 passes for 1,314 yards and eight touchdowns last season.

His numbers qualify him as an elite NFL receiver, regardless what national sports radio show hosts think.
Randall Cobb, the Packers’ No. 2 weapon, also is an explosive player. They complement each other perfectly. Nelson is fast, rangy and works the sideline as well as anybody since Cris Carter did his last toe-tap. Cobb, a perfect slot receiver, can take a 10-yard slant and turn it into an 80-yard touchdown in the blink of an eye.”
Nelson went on to have 98 catches for 1,500-plus yards and 13 touchdowns in 2014. Still, some didn’t understand how special the receiver is until he went down for the 2015 season.
It’s funny how that works. Like the old saying, “They don’t miss you until you’re gone.”
Nobody is likely to make that mistake with Nelson again.

In other training camp news:

Brett Hundley’s recurring ankle injury is unfortunate, but it doesn’t signal a backup quarterback crisis. Hundley played well before being injured against the Raiders early in the second quarter.
There’s nothing more I need to see from Hundley to believe that so long as he’s healthy he is ready to be a capable backup if needed.
It’s also instructive that Joe Callahan has played well. It reminds everyone that Packers head coach Mike McCarthy and his coaching staff knows what it’s doing when it comes to coaching quarterbacks.
Inside linebackers Joe Thomas and Carl Bradford aren’t simply going quietly into the night. Both have shown improvement since last season, with Bradford flashing essentially for the first time in recent days.
Both are competing for a roster spot. Special teams will be vital. So will being fundamentally and assignment sure. Bradford, a third-year pro of no renown, might land on the 53-man roster after all.
Kenny Clark has been good thus far, but he hasn’t shown the “explosive” plays that are to come. Clark is still feeling his way at defensive tackle, a position that demands patience for young players.
In Clark’s case, he merely needs more experience.
Also, rookie outside linebacker Kyler Fackrell is showing the burst that had scouts believing he could be an NFL pass rusher.
So far, so good, for Fackrell’s development.
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