GREEN BAY — Well aware of his good friend’s limited production in his absence, Aaron Rodgers might not be returning to save the Green Bay Packers’ season, but he’s clearly intent on getting Jordy Nelson re-engaged in the offense.
“I know there’s a lot of juice left in ‘87,’ ” Rodgers said this week as the Packers prepped for Sunday’s game at Carolina — the quarterback’s first since breaking his right collarbone Oct. 15 at Minnesota. “I’d like to fill that up this week.”
Nelson’s cup hasn’t even been half-full since Rodgers went down. At the time of Rodgers’ injury, Nelson had 20 receptions for 240 yards and a league-high six touchdowns in essentially four games, having played just seven snaps in a Week 2 loss at Atlanta because of a quadriceps injury he sustained early in the game. While he caught five passes for 50 yards from backup Brett Hundley against the Vikings, Nelson had just 22 receptions for 153 yards and no touchdowns in the seven games Hundley started.
That plummeting production leaves him with 47 catches for 443 yards and those same six touchdowns — a far cry from the 97 catches for 1,257 yards and league-leading 14 touchdowns he had while earning the NFL comeback player of the year award last year.
So Rodgers’ return might be exactly what Nelson needs. In his career, Nelson has caught 544 passes for 7,809 yards and 69 touchdowns. Of those, Rodgers has been the quarterback for 466 catches, 6,891 yards and 65 touchdowns.
“They’ve been playing together for such a long time,” offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett said. “The time off, I don’t think it necessarily hurts when you’re on the same wavelength. You understand how (the other) is going to respond in certain situations. Certainly when two guys have been playing together for such a long time, the chemistry factors into it.”
This isn’t the first time Rodgers has missed extended time with a broken collarbone, and it’s not the first time Nelson’s numbers have suffered as a result. In 2013, when Rodgers broke his left collarbone and also missed 7½ games, Nelson had 40 receptions for 676 yards and seven touchdowns at the time of Rodgers’ injury — and only 35 receptions for 477 yards and one touchdown while Rodgers was out. When Rodgers returned for the regular-season finale at Chicago, Nelson was back to being Nelson, catching 10 passes for 161 yards in a last-minute win over the Bears.
“We all have our job to do,” Nelson said. “(Aaron and I) have a lot of reps that we’ve put into it, but what our assignment is and what we do as receivers doesn’t change depending on who the quarterback is. We run the same routes.
“There’s no way to put one thing on it. But (the connection) is a lot of cumulative reps, cumulative conversations that carry over.”
There were more of those conversations this week, and it’s clear getting Nelson — as well as Randall Cobb — more involved is a high priority for Rodgers. Not because they’re Rodgers’ BFFs — Rodgers also wants to feed Davante Adams, who became Hundley’s go-to guy with Rodgers out — but because the offense is more explosive when those two are more involved. Rodgers proved as much when he was healthy, Nelson and Cobb were productive and the Packers were 4-1 after five games.
“I think (it’s because of) the experience of playing with each other and the growth of them both individually as players, growing up through this thing together,” wide receivers coach Luke Getsy said, referring to how Rodgers became the Packers’ starting quarterback in 2008, Nelson’s rookie year. “When you play with a special guy like Aaron, you have to see the game the way that he sees it. I think that Jordy probably just sees it a little bit better than most people ever have. That’s what makes that combination so special.
“When you’re playing on the run, when the ball is snapped and you’re running a route, everything changes. It’s not a chalkboard anymore and you have to react, and those two seem to always be on the same page.
“The chemistry they have is special. There’s no denying that. Anybody in this league that watches those two play, they know that. We look forward to getting back to a lot of that again.”
As of Friday afternoon, the Packers had not yet activated Rodgers from injured reserve and moved him onto the 53-man roster. When he met with reporters Friday morning, McCarthy said the team would either make the move later in the day or today.
“We didn’t forget,” McCarthy joked. “You know how it works around here.”
The Packers ruled veteran cornerback Davon House out for Sunday with the back injury he sustained in Cleveland. House, who returned to the Packers on a one-year deal in March after two years in Jacksonville, hopes to play next Saturday against Minnesota. “My mindset is, I’ve got (a few) games left to be a Packer, because you never know what’s going to happen at the end of the year and I only signed a one-year deal,” House said. “So, I go down, I’m going to go down swinging.” … Outside linebacker Nick Perry (foot/shoulder) and cornerback Demetri Goodson (hamstring) were listed as questionable, and both are slated to test their injuries in practice today. … Right tackle Jason Spriggs (hip) is questionable, but McCarthy said him playing is “not a concern” and he is expected to go.