GREEN BAY, Wis. — The improvement that Randall Cobb showed from his rookie year in 2011 to last season was more than the Green Bay Packers could have possibly hoped for.
Cobb finished sixth on the team in receptions and yards in his first NFL season with 25 catches and 375 receiving yards. The Year 1 to Year 2 jump that coach Mike McCarthy always preaches was proven to be true for Cobb, who led the Packers in receptions (80) and yards (954) in his second season in Green Bay.
Even with that drastic increase in production, that’s not the best that Cobb can do. At least he doesn’t think so.
“I still don’t think I’ve peaked yet,” Cobb told FOXSportsWisconsin.com this week. “I’m only 22 years old, I still have a lot of room to grow. I’ll just continue to get better year in and year out, week in and week out, and just continue to rise up.”
Cobb, the Packers’ second-round pick in 2011, had a lot more opportunities last season to display his blend of speed and precise route-running. As a rookie, Cobb was only on the field for 309 snaps (28.6 percent). Last season, Cobb’s 733 snaps (61.7 percent) were the second-most among Green Bay’s group of wide receivers.
“I think (the personal improvement was) mostly opportunities and me taking hold of those opportunities,” Cobb said. “I was just trying to get into the rotation last year. When I did get into the rotation, I got my opportunities and I tried to make the most of them. Moving forward, whenever I get those opportunities, I have to hold them down.”
Some of Cobb’s additional playing time in 2012 was a result of Greg Jennings missing eight games and Jordy Nelson sitting out four games, as injuries plagued both of them. Cobb capitalized on that, but he won’t need teammates to get hurt in order to get those chances again next season.
Jennings signed with the Minnesota Vikings in the offseason, while the Packers’ all-time leading receiver, Donald Driver, retired. That leaves Cobb to lead a diminished wide-receiver group that also features Nelson and James Jones.
“I’m not going to approach it any different,” Cobb said. “I’m very hard on myself. I’ve always been my biggest critic. I expect a lot of things out of myself. I’m just going to continue to work hard, continue to do what I do and, as far as my offseason preparation and my in-season preparation, continue that routine.
“I know I’ll have more opportunities this year, obviously. Me, Jordy and James, we’re all looking forward to this opportunity, knowing that it’s us three. We really do miss Greg and Donald, and we know what they meant to this organization and to this team for so many years, but we have to take control of what’s in front of us and face it head up.”
McCarthy created several ways to get the ball in Cobb’s hands last season. He lined Cobb up in the slot, out wide and in the backfield. Cobb was handed the ball directly, caught short screen passes and was featured in a variety of situations that most receivers aren’t.
“I have a certain skill set that Coach McCarthy took advantage of,” Cobb said. “Obviously, we created a lot of matchup problems this past year. We took hold of those different formations, those different opportunities, to exploit some teams.”
All of that success, though, means opposing defenses now have a season’s worth of tape on Cobb and can game plan accordingly. But Cobb isn’t worried.
“Every year, every team is different,” he said. “Obviously we’re looking forward to our running game picking up this next year and opening up some different things for our passing game. We have some great coaches. They come up with all kind of ways to get all of us the ball in different ways and get us in matchup situations that fit us the best.
“Our offense is set up for all of us to achieve greatness.”
McCarthy also got the ball in Cobb’s hands by having him return kicks and punts throughout the majority of the past two seasons. However, those days have likely come to an end for Cobb.
The Packers gave Jeremy Ross a chance in the return game late last season, but his muffed catch on a punt near the goal line was a significant turning point in Green Bay’s divisional-round loss to the San Francisco 49ers.
McCarthy commented during rookie minicamp that he was “excited” by running back Johnathan Franklin’s “very natural” ability as a return man, so that is another option for the team.
Removing Cobb from special teams would please quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who stated on Dec. 23: “I hope we can get him off special teams soon.” That comment came after Cobb was injured while returning a punt in Week 16, which kept him out of the regular-season finale with an ankle issue.
Early in September 2012, before his breakout season, Cobb was wanting his role in special teams to be as short-lived as possible.
“Hopefully at some point I’ve validated myself as a receiver where a younger guy can take over that role,” Cobb said at the time.
Cobb has since changed his tune a bit on that topic, but it likely won’t matter now that the Packers seem ready to let him exclusively play offense.
“I’m a football player; I love playing the game,” Cobb said this week. “If I’m out there on kickoff return and punt return, great. If not, great. It’s trying to do whatever it takes to get the title back home. If that’s me being a returner, that’s fine. I’m fine with it. If not, I’m sure there are other guys who they’re going to have a lot of trust in them doing it.”
Cobb hopes the determining factor in whether he continues in special teams has nothing to do with his Week 16 ankle injury.
“Injuries are going to happen; You’re going to get hurt,” he said. “We play a very physical game. You’re going to take hits and injuries are going to happen. Unfortunately it happened on a special teams play. If it would’ve happened on offense, some people might be saying I shouldn’t play offense anymore.
“Injuries happen and you just have to continue to move on from them and continue to do what you can to take care of yourself.”