GREEN BAY, Wis. – On one end of Ray Nitschke Field on Tuesday, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was back at work trying to make the team’s passing game rise from the ashes of the Davante Adams trade.
On the other end of the field was one of the solutions.
With Drew Brees at quarterback from 2017 through 2020, New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara had seasons of 81, 81, 81 and 83 receptions.
In the quest to replace Adams’ 123 receptions from last season, Rodgers figures to throw the ball early and often to Jones. That’s been a theme throughout training camp, with Jones catching the usual running back assortment of swing passes, screens and checkdowns but also doing work at receiver when on the field with fellow running back AJ Dillon.
“Any time,” Rodgers said of throwing Jones the football. “We’re going to have to use him and ’28.’ We’ve seen today we had them in multiple packages where they’re both in the backfield. We have a lot of stuff out of that. We have runs to both of them, we have swing passes to them, we have screens, we have down-the-field stuff, we have action stuff, we have scat protection, we have six- man, seven-man protection stuff.”
Rodgers figured both Jones and Dillon would catch 50 passes this season. That would be child’s play for Jones, who averaged 49.3 receptions the past three seasons even with the passing game revolving around the singular talents of Adams. During that span, Jones ranked seventh among running backs in receptions, fourth in receiving yards and second in touchdowns.
Dillon, meanwhile, caught 34-of-37 targets during a breakout second season. Out of the 44 backs who were targeted at least 35 times, he ranked third in catch percentage and eighth in yards after the catch per catch.
“There’s a lot in the offense for those two guys,” Rodgers said. “We’ve got to get our best 11 on the field and it seems like those two are both in the best 11.”
The return of tight end Robert Tonyan from a torn ACL should help offset the loss of Adams, as well. He was phenomenal in 2000, when he caught 52 passes and had more touchdowns (11) than incomplete passes (seven) and drops (zero) combined. With a terrific feel for the game, it seemed like he was always open – and often wide open.
“He’s a great route runner and he really improved blocking,” Rodgers said. “Last year, our best personnel at the start of the season was ‘12’ with Big Dog [Marcedes Lewis] on the field [with] Bobby, with the opportunity to run and pass out of that. It could get back to that. I still feel like ‘28’ and ‘33’ being on the field is going to be important. We’ll have to figure out how to do that, but Bobby gives us a little flexibility running routes. He’s just a premier route-runner. He’s not a 4.4 guy, but he’s fast enough to get behind guys but crafty enough to get open. He really understands spots in zones and then how to beat man coverage with his kind of subtle movements.”
With three reliable threats with Jones, Dillon and Tonyan, it will be a matter of providing an explosive element to get some chunk plays. Allen Lazard is Rodgers’ primary option, Sammy Watkins finally had a big-time day on Tuesday and veteran Randall Cobb remains, in Rodgers’ eyes, a “premier” slot receiver.
It will up to those three to carry the group until the young receivers – rookies Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs or second-year slot Amari Rodgers – are ready to be reliable contributors. They’re not there yet but there’s a lot of talent in that trio.
“I expect there will be a couple that kind of break out from that and have really exceptional seasons,” Rodgers said. “The exciting part is you don’t know that’s going to be. I feel like ‘13’ is going to be one of them and after that, it will be interesting.”