Janis seeks consistency
Jeff Janis sat quietly in his locker on last Friday afternoon, wearing a smile and a pair of bright cardinal-red University of Wisconsin workout shorts.
“I got ‘em from Abby,” Janis said, referring to his fellow Green Bay Packers second-year wide receiver Jared Abbrederis,
The reason Janis was smiling – other than the free shorts he’d gotten from his buddy – was he knew the question that was coming next:
Why can’t you get on the field?
Through the first five games of the season – and despite the preseason loss of Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams missing three straight games with an ankle injury and Randall Cobb and James Jones each playing through injuries – the 2014 seventh-round pick from Saginaw Valley State had played just 33 of the Packers’ 348 offensive snaps (9.5 percent) to that point.
“It just comes with getting reps with Aaron in practice. That’s where most of it comes from,” Janis replied. “My role that I’m playing right now, I don’t get many reps with him. So when I’m in there, I’ve got to make them count. That’s basically it.”
As it turned out, there was another way for Janis to get playing time on offense: Necessity, which arose when rookie Ty Montgomery sprained his ankle during Sunday’s 27-20 victory over the San Diego Chargers at Lambeau Field.
With Montgomery going down in the second quarter – NFL Network’s Ian
Rapoport reported Monday that it’s a simple ankle sprain and Montgomery could play in the Packers’ Nov. 1 post-bye game at Denver – Janis was pressed into action as the Packers’ third receiver and played 40 of the Packers’ 53 snaps against the Chargers.
And not only did Janis play, but he delivered two big gains: A 46-yard pickup on a deep ball from quarterback Aaron Rodgers down the left sideline that came with both him and Richard Rodgers in the vicinity; and a 33-yard catch-and-run on when the QB improvised and flipped him the ball while escaping the rush. When he was tackled at the end of the play, the quarterback was leading the congratulatory welcoming committee, patting Janis on the helmet and telling him what a good job he’d done.
“It was pretty awesome, just to get Aaron’s trust and have his confidence in me,” Janis said. “It felt really good, so hopefully he’ll look my way a little more often.”
The plays were merely a continuation of what Janis has done since his first preseason, when he caught only two balls in exhibition play but both went for touchdowns. This summer, he added three more touchdown catches.
But as crucial as his two plays were Sunday, Janis still has more to do to convince the coaching staff – not just Rodgers – that he deserves more playing time even if Montgomery doesn’t miss any additional time. That much was clear in Rodgers’ response to a question about Janis during his post-game Q&A with the media.
“I think it’s yet to be determined,” Rodgers replied when asked if he thought Janis was ready for an expanded role in the offense. “We’ll see what Ty’s status is, and Davante, it’ll be great to get Davante back because he adds another dimension outside with his quick-twitch ability. The week will be good for both of those guys. We have spots for a lot of different people, and we’ve got to find ways to get our best players on the field at all times and ways to get the ball to them in space.”
Reading between the lines, that sounds as though Janis has more to do before he proves himself to the reigning NFL MVP. Except Rodgers isn’t the only one he must win over.
When asked recently about Janis, who got extensive offseason work with Rodgers while Nelson was sidelined following hip surgery, both quarterbacks/wide receivers coach Alex Van Pelt and Nelson cited the same shortcoming: Inconsistency.
While Van Pelt likened the Packers’ offense to “calculus” and Janis admitted the Saginaw Valley State offense was “algebra” by comparison, Janis is a smart guy (Wonderlic score: 30) and has had two years to learn the playbook.
“It’s quite a big step up, I’d say, from there to here. But I don’t think that’s an issue really,” Janis said of the playbook. “Being here for almost two years now, I mean, I think I’ve got a pretty good grip of the offense.”
Rather, it’s the nuances and read-and-react parts of the game where Janis must prove himself, Van Pelt suggested.
“Jeff has a great skill set. He’s big, he’s strong, he’s fast, he’s very similar to Jordy in what he can do,” Van Pelt said. “But with any young player, the fact that you’ve got to be more consistent is probably the most critical thing I can say about Jeff.
“From the standpoint of working hard and trying to improve every day, he gives you everything he’s got on the field. He wants to get better. It’s just going to be a matter of him week-in and week-out just getting a little bit better every week every year until he gets there. He came from a smaller school into a big system, an offensive system that has a lot of adjustments and that takes time to grow into if you’re not used to that.”
When Nelson, who was lost for the season Aug. 23 to a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, was asked about Janis before Sunday’s game, he compared Janis to himself and how he went about proving himself early in his career.
“It’s the fact of someone taking pride in their work and being consistent. That’s what it comes down to,” said Nelson, who acknowledged that Janis resembles him physically (Janis is 6-foot-3, 219 pounds; Nelson is 6-3, 217) and has better speed (Janis’ 4.42-second 40-yard dash time coming out of college was faster than Nelson’s 4.51). “The main thing I ever focused on was being the same guy every day. Whether it was the coaches or it was Aaron, whenever I go out there, whether it’s practice or a game, you know what to expect [from me]. And I think that’s where it comes from.
“[Janis] made some big plays in preseason and in practice, but it’s the consistency level, day-in and day-out. In the classroom, when you get asked a question, you have to be able to sit there and answer it – and it’s not just Jeff, it’s everybody – and answer it the way [Rodgers] wants it answered. So he knows you know what you’re doing. And it goes from there.”
If Montgomery and/or Adams return after the bye – Adams said last week that he fully expected to be back for the Broncos – it’s still possible for Janis to contribute if the coaches put together a specific package for him that’s tailored to his strengths.
If they do that, perhaps Janis can accelerate his progress.
“I think most of it has to do with practice, and just I think being in the right spots at the right time with Aaron and just kind of taking mental notes on the little things he expects you to do,” Janis said. “I’ve just got to come in each day and try to get better as a player. Whatever my role is on the team, I accept that – whether it’s special teams or whatever. I’m just going to try to do my best at whatever position I’m playing.
“I just try to fill my role on the team. I realize we’ve got a lot of guys in the room with a lot of talent, and I just try to be patient, and whatever role that [the coaching staff] thinks I need to play, that’s what I’m going to try to play.”