GREEN BAY, Wis. — Aaron Rodgers isn’t the type of superstar player who gives out compliments to teammates just for a few feel-good moments in the name of building team chemistry. The methodical Green Bay Packers quarterback, who has never met a question he didn’t have an answer ready for, is just as quick to come with criticism when he feels it’s warranted.
That’s what makes Rodgers’ positive assessment of Packers practice squad wide receiver Diondre Borel so eye opening.
“I think Diondre has made as big a jump as anybody from Year 1 to 2,” Rodgers said during the team’s offseason programs. “He really made the most of his reps on the scout team last year. He’s a great teammate, a hard worker and he really understands the game.
“Diondre, I think, has had one of the top springs out of the guys who you were looking for to make a jump.”
For Borel, an undrafted free-agent pickup by Green Bay last year, comments like that from the NFL’s Most Valuable Player carry a lot of weight within a franchise. And it didn’t take long for Rodgers’ words to reach Borel.
“Yeah, I heard about it,” Borel said. “I read a little bit of it. It feels good to hear that. I just have to keep grinding and staying humble about it. It’s good to hear, but I still have to play in the games, preseason games and go through training camp.”
During Borel’s four-year college career at Utah State, he caught only two passes. That’s because Borel was the team’s quarterback, while also serving as a punter. Borel did not learn the wide receiver position until a year ago, but Rodgers considers that a positive.
“I think he has the luxury of being a quarterback in college,” Rodgers said. “So he sees the game through a quarterback’s eyes, and that gives him a slight advantage over guys he’s competing with because he understands timing and progression maybe a little bit quicker than some of those other guys.”
When Borel was given the Packers’ playbook, which this year was downloaded to each player’s iPad instead of distributed as a traditional thick binder, it was apparent how much his years as a quarterback were instantly paying off.
“When I first started looking at the playbook, it was kind of like, I wanted to learn everybody,” Borel said. “I was so used to learning what everybody’s doing, so when I’m looking at it now, I was just reading the whole play, looking at everybody’s position. It’s helped tremendously.”
Our position coach (Edgar Bennett) wants us to learn all the positions: slot, outside, X and Z, and that’s helped me a lot knowing everybody’s spot. Playing quarterback, it helps because you have to learn what everybody has to do.”
Borel, 23, could have already been long past practice-squad status. He had a contract offer from Tampa Bay late last season that would have immediately put Borel on the Buccaneers’ active roster. But Borel passed on that opportunity, opting to keep fighting his way up the Packers’ talented depth chart at wide receiver.
However, with all five of Green Bay’s top wideouts returning this season, not even a huge endorsement from Rodgers may get Borel a spot with the Packers.
“Our roster will be challenged as far as six receivers,” coach Mike McCarthy said during minicamp. “But with the way we play, you could make a legitimate argument for six receivers with the overall roster. Special teams will play a big part on which positions are heavier than the others. It always does.”
If Borel does not make Green Bay’s active roster this season, it is highly unlikely he will spend another year on the Packers’ practice squad.
“If you’re on a practice squad, you’re available,” Borel said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen. But when that time comes, then that’ll be my decision. I’ll have to decide what I want to do.”
Borel has talked with his good friend and teammate, running back Alex Green, about his future.
“Just talking to Borel a couple times about it, he’s just focusing on him, doing what he can to get better every day,” Green said. “If that’s enough for the team, then there you go. If not, then he’ll try somewhere else.
“He does want to be around here. He feels comfortable here. He knows the system, knows the plays. He just wants to play.”
For Borel to move up to playing on Sundays, McCarthy will have to carry six wide receivers on the active roster or an injury will have to hit one of the five regulars. If either of those scenarios becomes reality, Borel will have to beat out fellow practice squad receiver Tori Gurley for the spot.
It had been Gurley who was viewed as the next man up among Green Bay’s receivers, but Borel’s ascent into the good graces of Rodgers may be an indication that the momentum has shifted.
“I feel a lot better now with route running, catching the ball; it all feels more natural,” Borel said. “Last year, I don’t think my routes were as good. I feel good. I just go into practice and try to make plays and do everything right.
“Some people focus on the wrong things so it tends to take them off track if they worry about the numbers game. That’s why they lose confidence in themselves going into that practice to go make plays.
“I just try to be patient. My mom always tells me to be patient, focus on yourself, don’t worry about what anyone says, any negativity. Just have a level head and keep going.”
That steady, workman-like approach has certainly been noticed by Rodgers. If everything falls into place for Borel, it could lead to his being on the receiving end of a Rodgers bullet pass into the end zone in just a few months.