GREEN BAY — The question not only seemed reasonable, but the answer seemed blatantly obvious. Apparently, it was to Aaron Rodgers, too.
The Green Bay Packers targeted Pro Bowl wide receiver Davante Adams 169 times last season — in 15 games, since Adams missed the regular-season finale against Detroit with a knee injury, forcing him to settle for near-record setting final numbers: 111 receptions (one shy of Sterling Sharpe’s 1993 team record of 112) for 1,386 yards (133 shy of Jordy Nelson’s 2014 club record of 1,519) and 13 touchdowns.
Only Atlanta’s Julio Jones, with 170 targets, had the ball thrown his way more often last season, while only New Orleans’ Michael Thomas (125), Philadelphia’s Zach Ertz (116), Houston’s DeAndre Hopkins (115), Jones (113) and Minnesota’s Adam Thielen (113) caught more passes than Adams.
And while Adams was catching those 111 balls, no other Packers wideout caught more than 38 — Randall Cobb (38), Marquez Valdes-Scantling (38), Equanimeous St. Brown (21), Geronimo Allison (20), Jake Kumerow (eight), J’Mon Moore (two) and Allen Lazard (one). (Tight end Jimmy Graham had the second-most receptions on the team with 55.)
So when asked following this week’s open organized team activity practice whether he needed to spread the ball around more this season in new head coach Matt LaFleur’s still-being-installed offensive scheme, surely Rodgers, who for the past decade has said that his favorite/No. 1 receiver is always “the one who’s open,” was going to agree with the premise, right?
“I’d like to throw to Davante more,” Rodgers replied without a second’s hesitation. “He’s that open.”
Yes, as the Packers transition from ex-coach Mike McCarthy’s passing concepts, which were largely predicated on creating mismatches and counted on receivers winning their respective 1-on-1 matchups, to LaFleur’s offense, which is advertised as effectively scheming receivers open, the constant in Rodgers’ mind is that Adams must be the focus of the offense.
“We’ve got to keep finding ways to get him the ball,” Rodgers continued. “There’s nothing wrong with having a go-to guy who’s that dynamic and trying to find ways to get him the ball.
“I think obviously we need complementary pieces in place. I think Marquez has had a fantastic spring and really stepped up as a guy who can be an every-down player. And then, I expect a big bounce-back year from Jimmy. He’s healthy, he’s feeling good. This offense, I think fits him and his body type.
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“But I’m not going to shy away from throwing the ball to Davante.”
To that end, LaFleur has made it clear that he wants to move Adams around on offense, and at least during the one open-to-the-public OTA practice Adams took part in, that intention was evident. Adams not only went in motion frequently, but he was also often clustered in bunched sets and also lined up in the slot — although Allison got most of the slot snaps when the No. 1 offense was on the field.
New wide receivers coach Alvis Whitted, who played the position for nine NFL seasons, said moving Adams around “enhances” his ability to beat defenders 1-on-1.
“It gives him different means of getting open and the flexibility to move him around in different spots on the field, and that way defenses can’t key on him,” Whitted said. “I think he just has a tremendous skill set as far as being able to get open, the short-area quickness that he has, his football intelligence. Just how he can manipulate defenders is really awesome.
“He’s just a special player and he’s obviously tremendous at preparing. He’s been in this league quite a while now. He’ll continue to do great things.”
At the same time, Adams didn’t take part in the other two open OTA sessions — the first absence was because of a minor injury; no reason was given for the second — and when he wasn’t out there, the Packers’ lack of proven depth at the position was glaring. During Tuesday’s practice, Rodgers had Allison, Valdes-Scantling, and Kumerow — combined career regular-season receptions: 101, or 10 fewer than Adams had last season — with the No. 1 offense.
While the coaches have been effusive in their praise of Adams’ leadership — Whitted calls Adams “the alpha” in the receivers room — there’s no doubt Rodgers isn’t the only one counting on Adams to be a field-tilting player again this season. General manager Brian Gutekunst went so far after the draft to say he was “content” with what his team had behind Adams at wideout.
For his part, Adams described the new offense as “complex” but “nothing we can’t handle.” But he, too, believes the scheme will only help him get open more often — a good thing given Rodgers’ plans to keep sending the ball his direction.
“It’s inviting a lot less press coverage, but something I’ve been comfortable with is press coverage, so it’s not like it’s taking anything away or adding anything really,” Adams said of lining up in the slot and going in motion. “It’s going to allow me to get out and get into my routes a lot easier, and if guys want to still move with motions and matching and press from there, it’s just going to take it back to what I’m used to. So at the end of the day I feel like it’s a win-win for the offense.”