Randall Cobb is paying it forward. Even though it feels really weird to him.
The Green Bay Packers’ fourth-year wide receiver is assuming a greater leadership role this offseason, doing his best to do for the team’s younger receivers what Donald Driver, Greg Jennings and James Jones did for him when he arrived as a rookie second-round pick in 2011.
But here’s the thing: Most of the Packers’ so-called younger receivers … aren’t.
Cobb, who was only 20 years old when the Packers drafted him and won’t turn 24 until August, is actually younger than fellow wideouts Jarrett Boykin (24), Myles White (24) and Chris Harper (24). Even Cobb’s pet project, rookie fifth-round pick Jared Abbrederis, who will turn 24 in December, is only four months younger than he is. Only Jordy Nelson, at the ripe old age of 29 and entering his seventh season, is older and more experienced than Cobb.
“I’m still the same age as all these guys. So for them to look at me as this veteran guy is kind of weird for me, because half of them are older than me,” Cobb said Tuesday following the Packers’ third and final open organized team activity practice of the offseason. “[I’m] just trying to be of any help I can because I had guys come before me in Donald and Greg and James that helped me to get to where I am today.”
Cobb isn’t the only one weirded out by being one of the elder statesmen. Nelson called his role “unbelievable” and said he was glad Abbrederis was picked so he wouldn’t be the only married guy in the receivers room.
“They're all still young and they're all still growing, all still learning. But certainly, you lose a guy of [Jones’] caliber, someone else has to step up,” wide receivers coach Edgar Bennett said. “Jordy, Randall – they were leaders last year, no doubt, and the year before that. But now [they are] taking even more of a role from that standpoint.”
Cobb connected immediately with Abbrederis because he believes their games are so similar. They have similar body types (Cobb is listed at 5-foot-10 and 192 pounds; Abbrederis listed 6-foot-1, 195) and are effective as inside receivers and returners. Although Abbrederis started his college career at the University of Wisconsin as a walk-on while Cobb was a three-star recruit to Kentucky, both were high-school quarterbacks – Cobb played some QB for the Wildcats, too – and have high football IQs.
“Especially with Abbrederis, we have a lot of similarities and [I’m] just helping him with his releases or helping him with his stems and route-running,” Cobb explained. “He’s a quick, shifty guy [who can] work the slot, work the underneath stuff, can go deep. I think we have a lot of similarities in the way we run our routes, moreso than anybody else out of this group because of our body style.”
Cobb, who missed 10 games last season with a leg injury and is entering the final year of his rookie deal, has been enjoying OTAs simply because he’s happy to be back on the field. Although he returned from the injury – a small fracture at the top of his tibia near the knee, suffered Oct. 13 at Baltimore – in time to catch Aaron Rodgers’ game-winning, fourth-down last-minute touchdown pass at Chicago in the regular-season finale to send the Packers to the playoffs, Cobb’s 2013 season was, on the whole, a disappointment.
That’s why he’s so ebullient as he’s gone through practices at Ray Nitschke Field this spring.
“I think there’s a bigger value (to OTAs) just because I missed 10 weeks,” Cobb said. “I think it re-lit a fire in me and how much I love the game and how much I love playing. [And it’s] still motivated me to do some things that I missed out on.
“I had goals last year. I had goals for myself and goals for this team and I didn’t get to achieve any of them because I missed 10 weeks. I think this time is a great time for me to continue to work on my craft and get better and improve so I can help this team this year.”
Cobb finished last season with 31 receptions for 433 yards and four touchdowns in just six games. After leading the Packers in receptions (80) and receiving yards (954) in 2012, he was on pace for his first 1,000-yard season when the injury struck.
While Cobb was sidelined, Nelson spent more time as a slot receiver, something he’d rarely done in his career. Now, with the offseason departure of Jones, who was almost exclusively an outside receiver, Cobb figures to see more time there this season, even though Boykin and rookie second-round pick Davante Adams will see time there as well.
“It’s going to be on the coaching staff to put us in those formations and put us in those sets, and hopefully I can be that guy when we make that move,” Cobb said of playing outside, where he’s seen quite a few snaps in OTAs. “Receiver is receiver, regardless of if you are inside or outside. I feel the same outside as I do inside.”
Wherever he lines up, though, Cobb intends to continue to lend a hand to his younger – er, less experienced – teammates.
“We’ve got a lot of experience on this team, a lot of guys that are pretty mature and ‘get it,’” Cobb said. “The young guys are getting it pretty fast, so I think that definitely helps with the learning curve. If they’re picking it up fast it’s going to make us all better.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.