GREEN BAY — As Aaron Rodgers traces the path of wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling’s development, he could easily use last summer’s Family Night practice and Friday night’s installment of the Green Bay Packers’ annual part-practice, part-pep rally event at Lambeau Field.
A year ago, Valdes-Scantling was a rookie fifth-round pick — one of three draftees at his position — trying to find his way. He was struggling to learn then-coach Mike McCarthy’s offense and gain his quarterback’s trust, a parlay that can be overwhelming to any young wide receiver.
On Friday night, there was Valdes-Scantling, lining up with Rodgers and the No. 1 offense frequently throughout the night, having emerged early in camp as the clear-cut third wide receiver in the pecking order behind No. 1 target Davante Adams and Geronimo Allison, who has spent most of camp lining up as the slot receiver.
And Rodgers, for one, has been impressed with Valdes-Scantling’s growth — both as a player, and in new coach Matt LaFleur’s offensive scheme, which Valdes-Scantling’s teammates believe is tailor-made for him.
For Rodgers, who holds young receivers to a famously high standard, seeing “MVS” (as Rodgers calls him) grow this quickly has been reassuring after seeing three of his most reliable veteran pass-catchers — James Jones after the 2015 season, Jordy Nelson after the 2017 season and Randall Cobb after last season — depart. What has impressed Rodgers is not only how Valdes-Scantling took advantage of learning from Cobb and Adams last year, but how he’s become one of those model practice players himself.
“I think some of the biggest issues with young players and mistakes is just not watching the guy in front of you. If you don’t have a great example in front of you, then they might not know what to do,” Rodgers explained earlier this week. “There’s zero excuses when it comes to the receivers because, for years around here, you’ve had pro’s pros in that room. The Jordy Nelsons, the Randall Cobbs, James Jones, Davante Adams. The way Davante practices sets a tone for the entire group. That’s why his leadership is so important to that group.
“That being said, a guy like Marquez — who went through some spells last year when he wasn’t practicing all the time the right way — has totally changed. Now, he’s a leader when it comes to practicing the right way. I think he’s done a great job.”
Earlier in the week, Valdes-Scantling was on the receiving end of a 34-yard touchdown pass from Rodgers that gave the No. 1 offense a much-needed victory during a 2-minute drill that was part of LaFleur’s daily late-in-practice hyper-competitive final period. When asked if it was an important moment for his relationship with the quarterback, Valdes-Scantling shrugged it off.
Although former UW-Whitewater wide receiver Jake Kumerow had perhaps the best night of the wide receivers during Family Night, Valdes-Scantling continued his solid camp, making several catches in 11-on-11 periods, including a nice 11-yard grab on an out route.
For Valdes-Scantling, who finished his rookie season having caught 38 passes for 581 yards (15.3-yard average) and two touchdowns, it’s all about the cumulative effect of every snap with Rodgers.
“I think it’s an accumulation of things over time. With a quarterback like that, you want to just keep building his trust and keeping making plays and doing what you have to do to get him to throw you the football,” Valdes-Scantling explained. “That’s just what it is. I don’t think one play is going to solidify his trust. Davante didn’t build his trust over one play. It took time.
“If you get the trust from the quarterback, he’s going to throw you the football. I think that’s the simplest way to put it. Davante can be covered by two guys and ‘12’ still trusts him. A guy like Davante, who can make any catch at any time over anybody, that’s what you want to have in a connection with the quarterback. (Rodgers) trusts him no matter what the call is, what the coverage is. That’s the kind of trust you want.”
Another sign of how far Valdes-Scantling has come in Rodgers’ eyes is that Rodgers feels comfortable honestly assessing the not-so-stellar moments in his development. Not only did Rodgers mentioned the “spells last year when he wasn’t practicing all the time the right way,” but Rodgers also pointed out his production dropped after his best games of the year at midseason.
After Valdes-Scantling caught 11 passes (on 18 targets) for 190 yards and a touchdown during a three-game stretch against the Los Angeles Rams, New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins near midseason, he caught just seven passes (on 16 targets) for 61 yards and no TDs over the next five games.
“He went through that patch where he wasn’t playing as much or playing as well, kind of after the Rams and the New England game when he played really well. But I think he learned a lot from that. And I’m excited about him. He grew,” Rodgers said.
“I think ‘MVS’ has really been watching Davante closely and picking things up and playing as fast as his time. I think that’s an issue with any player. You might time at a super-quick 40 (-yard dash), but how fast do you play? It’s that football speed. ‘MVS’ is playing a lot closer to his 40 time speed, which is saying a lot because he’s pretty damned fast.“
That speed should be valuable once the Packers get their downfield play-action passing game going, which has been a work-in-progress so far.
The 6-foot-4, 206-pound Valdes-Scantling, who ran a 4.37-second 40-yard dash coming out of South Florida, spent about a month during the offseason working out with Pro Football Hall of Fame wide receiver and former Minnesota Vikings star Randy Moss. If he can take the top off defenses in LaFleur’s scheme half as effectively as Moss did for his teams in his prime, the Packers’ offense could be lethal.
“I think this offense is really catered for a guy like him. I think he’s seeing that and he’s recognizing it,” Adams said of Valdes-Scantling, with whom he swapped offseason videos and text messages as the young receiver sought Adams’ advice.
“There’s a lot of speed involved in all things (in the offense). He runs fast, but he plays even faster. And you don’t always see that with the guys who run 4.3. Sometimes they come out and play slow. But he’s not thinking much. He’s just going. He’s a really, really smart guy, too.
“I always make jokes with him, I bet he was the guy in science class who’d finish his test and start distracting other people. You can tell things kind of come easy to him. Combine that with the ability that he has on the field, that’s dangerous.“
LaFleur was impressed with his first Family Night, slightly taken aback by the large crowd. “What an environment. I’ve never been a part of anything like that in my life,” he said. “When you can almost fill up that stadium on a practice, that’s pretty unreal.” … Kumerow had a fantastic 37-yard catch on a go route down the sideline against top cornerback Jaire Alexander, reeling in Rodgers’ on-the-mark throw for a great contested catch. “He definitely helped himself,” LaFleur said of Kumerow. “It speaks to what we’ve been saying all along: You can always count on Jake.” … Top running backs Jamaal Williams (hamstring) and Aaron Jones (hamstring) remained sidelined and did not take part. Right tackle Bryan Bulaga, who suffered a season-ending knee injury during the 2013 event, did very little and took a veteran rest day, it appeared. … Outside linebacker Kendall Donnerson (hamstring), backup tackle Jason Spriggs (trapezius) and defensive end Fadol Brown (calf) remained sidelined. … Safety Mike Tyson (personal matter) and linebacker Curtis Bolton (illness) returned to action. … Kicker Mason Crosby (calf), CB Josh Jackson (foot) and outside linebacker Greg Roberts (core muscle injury) have yet to practice. … With Crosby still out, challenger Sam Ficken went 9-for-12 on field goal attempts, closing the practice by nailing a 63-yarder. “He wanted one more,” LaFleur said. “I knew Sam had a big leg, but that was a heck of a kick.”