GREEN BAY, Wis. — When the remarkable begins to seem ordinary, it’s often because the result of the feat being performed has a consistent outcome. That’s been the case this season with Green Bay Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson.
Through four games this season, Nelson has made multiple catches that deserve placement at the top of every NFL highlight reel. Perfect balance, body control and hands have defined Nelson’s increasingly frequent, seemingly impossible receptions.
However, this has led Nelson’s coaches and teammates — including quarterback Aaron Rodgers — to almost expect him to make those plays now.
“He makes such incredible catches, I don’t want to just brush him aside like they didn’t happen, but you’re not really surprised a whole lot by the plays he makes,” Rodgers said. “He does it at practice all the time and he’s so talented.”
Wide receivers coach Edgar Bennett isn’t amazed by Nelson’s efforts anymore, either.
“It’s kind of one of those situations where in dealing with him, his standards, our standards, it’s expected,” Bennett said. “It’s expected. He’s one of those players that, he’s elite. When you’re put in that category, you’re expected to make plays, and he’s certainly in that category. He’s a player that’s capable of doing even more.”
Regardless of Nelson’s talent level, doing even more than what he’s been doing is an expectation not easy to reach. Sure, he had one dropped pass in Week 2, but in comparison to Nelson’s 23 catches this season, that’s a pretty good ratio. Only three NFL receivers have more catches than Nelson without a drop.
The most challenging throws that Nelson has seen this season, including two in Week 5 against the Detroit Lions, he’s caught. That’s why, despite holding him to a very high standard, the Packers acknowledge that it isn’t normal to haul in some of the passes that Nelson has been coming down with.
“Well, they’re not routine,” offensive coordinator Tom Clements said. “You come to expect them to make difficult catches because they’ve done it, but it’s never routine. It’s just a matter of concentration. Jordy has the knack of being able to be on his toes on the sideline and be leaning out of bounds and still catch the ball and hold onto it.
“They’re not routine plays, by any stretch.”
There are drills that Green Bay’s receivers practice to help them make those type of catches. Bennett specifically mentioned sideline drills and toe-tap drills. But ultimately, it’s about a player with a unique ability that has been on display a lot recently.
“You’ve got to admit, those aren’t made by every receiver across the league,” Rodgers said. “He’s a special receiver, I’m glad he’s on our team, and I’m glad he makes me and our team look good all the time.”
The relationship between Rodgers and Nelson is an important part of the equation, too.
“You have to give credit to Jordy Nelson on those particular plays, but the other part of it is the guy throwing the ball,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “You talk about Aaron and Jordy and the connection they have playing the game of football, particularly the passing game. Aaron has great trust that Jordy’s going to go get those throws.
“Obviously when you’re throwing them, at times it could be an extended play, and Aaron’s throwing from a different body position. Jordy just has great body control and has very good hands to know exactly where he is.”
Though it appears that Nelson was born to catch passes when there’s just an inch separating the end of his shoe and the sideline, he’d rather be nowhere close to that area of the field.
“You don’t want to be on the sideline; you want to be away from the sideline,” Nelson said. “But just try to make the most of your opportunities I guess. I think it’s a little awkward that so many of them came up, but just trying to catch the ball, make sure you get your feet in.
“They just happen, I guess.”
They just happen. Well, that’s one way to look at it.
“You have to catch the ball first, no matter what,” Nelson said. “If you don’t catch the ball, it doesn’t matter what your feet do. So, you catch the ball, let your feet go dead and hopefully they land in bounds.”
If Nelson continues this season at his current rate, he’ll pass his career-high numbers from the 2011 season. That year, Nelson finished with 68 catches for 1,263 yards. This year, he’s on pace for 92 catches and 1,484 yards.
“There’s not too many receivers in this business that have the skill set to go out and make those type of plays,” Bennett said. “I think that sets him apart from a lot of guys in this business. His focus, his concentration, his ability to attack and get those feet down with the sideline awareness.