Packers WR Janis is looking for love

Packers sign first-round pick

Jeff Janis loves that you love him. He does.

The second-year wide receiver couldn’t be happier that the Green Bay Packers fan base is so enamored with him, that fans seem to have anointed him as next in the line of fan-favorite succession after fullback John Kuuuuuuuhn!, that his vocal supporters take to social media to demand answers from beat writers as to why the coaching staff didn’t give him more playing time last season. Not only does Janis appreciate the love, he draws motivation from it, even though – despite all that adoration – he’s able to shop at the Lombardi Ave. Cabela’s store or walk through the Bay Park Square Mall food court without being mobbed by his faithful supporters.

“Maybe it’s just because I’m a northern Michigan-type guy, outdoors guy, and a lot of people are like that from Green Bay, too,” Janis said following Wednesday’s open-to-the-public organized team activity practice at Clarke Hinkle Field – where, rest assured, there were railbirds watching No. 83 like a hawk. “I think it’s great that I ended up here. I really feel like I’m at home when I’m here. It’d be weird playing for any other team. I’m just loving it all up here.”

But for Janis, the only person who he really wants to love him – aside from longtime girlfriend Alyssa Gracik, whom he’s dated since his junior year of high school and he’ll marry on July 3 – is Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

Winning over the fan base with some flashy plays last summer and a hunting, fishing, ATVing, he’s-one-of-us Midwestern charm is all well and good. Winning over the two-time NFL MVP and gaining his trust? Now that’s the kind of acceptance that Janis wants – and needs, if he’s going to fulfill the potential his ardent supporters see in him.

“I’m just trying to take advantage of everything I’m taking right now, try to get more comfortable with Aaron and be on the same page with him,” Janis said. “I’m just really trying to focus on the mental things right now.

“It’s a lot different going with Aaron because he’s on a whole other level, but I’m just trying to take advantage of all the reps that I get and try to make plays whenever he comes my way.”

And he’s getting ample opportunity to prove himself to Rodgers in that area. With Pro Bowl wide receiver Jordy Nelson not taking part in any 11-on-11 drills during OTAs following offseason hip surgery – Nelson just started doing individual drills in practice this week – Janis has gotten most of what would have been Nelson’s snaps with Rodgers and the starting offense.

While only one OTA practice per week has been open to reporters and fans – so it’s hard to gauge just how effective Janis has been so far this spring in his practice sessions with Rodgers, he did haul in a touchdown pass from Rodgers to complete a successful 2-minute drive against the starting defense last week.

“I remember a couple years ago, [starting receivers] Donald [Driver] and Greg [Jennings] missed a few practices in OTAs and allowed James [Jones] and I to get a lot more reps,” Nelson replied when asked how much the extra work with Rodgers would help Janis. “The more reps you get, the more situations you’re in, the better you are at knowing what Aaron wants.

“The more you’re out there, the more balls you catch and the more confidence he grows in you. I think that’s the key. Just continuing to get those reps. He’s taking advantage of that and I think it’s big, and I think you’ll see a big step come training camp and preseason.”

For Janis, plays like the touchdown are vital, since for all his eye-catching play-making last summer – he seemed to make one big play every day in training camp, and his two preseason receptions each went for touchdowns – none of those splash plays came on balls thrown by Rodgers.

“That’s why I keep saying, ‘When I’m on the field with Aaron.’ It’s all about making plays with him,” Janis said. “I mean, it really helps my confidence just being on the same page with him. After the [touchdown] play, or [when] something like that happens, and he comes over and says, ‘Good job,’ that’s just a big confidence boost.”

Although the 6-foot-3, 219-pound Janis certainly flashed enough in preseason – on his 34-yard touchdown from Matt Flynn at St. Louis and his 33-yard TD from Scott Tolzien against Kansas City – to make the 53-man roster as a seventh-round pick from Saginaw Valley State, he was inactive for all but three of the Packers’ 18 regular- and post-season games and finished with just two receptions for 16 yards. Both catches were on passes from Flynn in garbage time of a blowout victory over Minnesota.

“Consistency – that’s the biggest thing for Jeff,” quarterbacks/wide receivers coach Alex Van Pelt said. “Man, he’s big, he’s fast, he’s everything you like to see. But once again, he came in as a rookie last year and it’s tough to get this whole thing [down], get your head wrapped around this whole thing in a short period of time. And I think early on it was maybe a little big for him.

“But this year now, that’s not going to be the case. I think he’s feeling better about where he is as a player in the NFL now.”

And Rodgers, in turn, is starting to feel better about him.

“It’s a big year for second-year players. A lot can happen between Years 1 and 2,” Rodgers said Wednesday. “I remember what it felt like to come back my second year and have a couple months to really learn the offense, go to quarterback school. I felt a lot more confident and it kind of played out in my preseason that year – more efficient, more confident scoring points. So it’s going to be important for those guys to take the jump.

“Because when training camp starts and when you want to play with the 1s, we just don’t really have a lot of room for the mental errors. If you can’t mentally get it together, then it’s going to be hard for myself and the offensive staff to trust putting you out there with the 1s.”

Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Wednesday that he wants to see Janis improve not only as a receiver but also on special teams, where he’ll have to show he can contribute in order to be active on game-day. For his part, though, Janis merely wants to play – and is eager to prove that he deserves to.

“I think I’m definitely taking some steps and getting better,” Janis said. “I think now it’s a completely different world. It’s really starting to slow down for me, and I’m starting to see things a little differently. It’s becoming a lot easier.

“The biggest thing with Aaron is he wants us to be mentally on the same page. He knows physical mistakes are going to happen like dropped balls and things like that, but mental errors are unacceptable to him. So I think that’s where I’m really trying to take a step.”