GREEN BAY — There are no assigned seats in the Green Bay Packers’ wide receivers meeting room. While the veterans might’ve had their favorite spots, no one was required to sit in a specific location.
But for the past two years, Geronimo Allison’s spot was easy to find: Wherever Jordy Nelson was sitting, Allison sat directly in front of him. And it was not by accident.
“I really clung to Jordy when he was here,” Allison explained earlier this week during a break in the team’s organized team activity practices. “I actually sat in front of him in meetings so everything he said was drilled into the back of my head (as) I’m listening. Sometimes we didn’t even make eye contact, but I’m hearing everything he’s saying and everything he’s doing when he’s out on the field.”
With Nelson gone — the Packers cut the 10-year veteran in March, believing one of the most productive receivers in franchise history (and quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ best friend on the team) was nearing the end of the line — the team is now counting heavily on Allison putting all those lessons to good use while filling Nelson’s spot on the field.
Allison said he learned of Nelson’s release via an ESPN alert on his iPhone, but he held off on calling Nelson for “about a week or so.” When he did, he couldn’t thank Nelson enough for what he’d taught him.
“He really showed me — not so much with words, but with action — how to be a pro. And how to go about it day by day, how to go out there and work,” Allison said. “He knew he was one of the best but he wasn’t going to sit there and tell you that. He just goes out there and shows you. And that’s kind of how my personality is.”
An undrafted free agent from Illinois in 2016, Allison enters the season with 35 career regular-season receptions and as the team’s third-most experienced receiver, behind No. 1 wideout Davante Adams and eighth-year veteran Randall Cobb. And those who’ve spent time with him see some Nelson-like qualities in his approach to the game.
“’G-Mo’ is one of the biggest students of the game in this locker room. He attacks it. You talk about a pro, he’s on his way to being just like the Jordys in terms of how he carries himself,” Adams said. “He’s the most attentive dude. Doesn’t say much, but he’s observant — he’s watching all the time and he picks up on things real well. Not a dude that you have to tell him things twice, so it makes it easy to work with him.
“He’s come a long way but at the same time you don’t want to say that like he (had a long way to go). He’s had the same mentality and been the same guy the whole time. We talk a lot, but when you ask him something. he’ll give you all the answers. He knows the answers. It’s never like, ‘Hey, G-Mo, what do you think about that?’ and then he can’t give you anything. He’s been really consistent throughout, and you just have to keep that going.”
Added first-year wide receivers coach David Raih: “If you’re a detail guy but you don’t have the effort and tenacity, you’re not going to get very far. And Geronimo, he’s got incredible effort and tenacity. Just the way that he approaches every day — I mean, you could ask any of the men in that room — he is all business.”
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Although general manager Brian Gutekunst pursued wide receivers Allen Robinson and Sammy Watkins at the start of free agency and later had Jordan Matthews in for a visit later, the team has yet to express interest in any of the veterans still on the market, including ex-Dallas Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant.
Gutekunst did draft three wide receivers -- Missouri’s J'Mon Moore in the fourth round, South Florida’s Marquez Valdes-Scantling in the fifth round and Notre Dame’s Equanimeous St. Brown in the sixth round — but realistically, it’s unlikely any of them will make major contributions as rookies, as even the Packers’ most accomplished receivers — including Nelson, Adams and Cobb — had limited impacts in their first seasons.
That leaves Allison in line to play a ton of snaps given the Packers’ preferred offensive set has at least three receivers on the field. According to formation statistics compiled by the NFL, 674 of the Packers’ 999 offensive plays last season were with three wide receivers on the field (67.5 percent). Add in the 73 plays the Packers ran with four or five receivers on the field, and nearly 3/4 of the Packers’ offensive snaps came with at least three wideouts on the field.
“It’s a big blessing and opportunity right there in front of me (that) I’ve got to take advantage of. But at the same time, there’s nothing that’s going to be given — it’s got to be earned,” Allison said. “They brought these (rookies) in to help us, and at the same time, it’s my job to get these guys up to speed. Because we’re going to need them and Aaron’s going to need to be able to trust them.”
For his part, Allison began winning over Rodgers early in his rookie season, as he seemingly made a big play every time he lined up with Rodgers during training camp that summer. While Allison still must work on his route-running and in-route adjustments — with the goal of “getting to that level where Randall and Davante are as far as detail with his technique,” Raih said — his Nelson-like work ethic and attention to detail caught Rodgers’ eye early on.
Their connection grew last season before Rodgers broke his collarbone -- Allison’s 72-yard catch-and-run on a third-and-10 play in overtime set up the game-winning kick in an early-season victory over Cincinnati -- but it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows last year, either. Allison’s critical fumble in Rodgers’ Dec. 17 return at Carolina — a mistake that came with the Packers within a touchdown and inside the Panthers’ 30-yard line with a chance to force overtime with a touchdown — ended the Packers’ postseason hopes and was a gut-wrenching learning experience.
While he’s not necessarily looking to atone for that mistake — “There’s nothing I can do about it but learn from it,” he said — he hasn’t forgotten it, and knows he needs to keep showing Rodgers that he can be counted on.
“I know how he trusts me, I know how he wants me to continue to work, continue to be where I’m supposed to be when I’m supposed to be there, and continue to just be ‘G’ and continue to make plays. That’s our relationship,” Allison said. “That’s something I’m going to continue to hold onto and just work.
“A mistake like that hurts you as an athlete and a competitor, but you have to pick yourself up and keep going forward. You’re going to get another opportunity. And when that opportunity comes, you make it happen.”