Packers WR Randall Cobb practices, but return is unlikely

Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb (18) runs for a touchdown after catching a pass as Washington Redskins cornerback David Amerson (39) chases from behind during the first quarter at Lambeau Field earlier this season.

Jeff Hanisch/Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Randall Cobb took a big step forward in his recovery, but the Green Bay Packers’ star receiver is still a few big steps away from actually playing in a game.

For the first time since fracturing his tibia on Oct. 13, Cobb practiced Wednesday. It was just last week that Cobb was finally cleared to run, so the player currently wearing the No. 18 jersey isn’t nearly up to the same high standard yet that he created for himself by leading the Packers in receiving last season.

“I wouldn’t say full speed,” Cobb said. “Just trying to get back acclimated to running.”

It’s highly unlikely that a player — especially one who relies on speed — can go from that level of health to being game-ready in a matter of days.

“It’s kind of like re-teaching myself to run routes again,” Cobb said. “I have to go back to working my running form and go back to working off cutting in different ways and different directions and doing different things. Just focusing in on those little-bitty details in my running.”

While Cobb wouldn’t be any more specific about his timetable than to say he’s “taking it day to day,” it seems almost certain that he won’t be on the field for Sunday’s must-win home game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Cobb, who was eligible to return from injured reserve last week, confirmed that he has not been medically cleared. It’s possible that he’ll only play in another game this season if the Packers make the playoffs.

“I believe everything’s healed; just getting back into football shape and trusting myself,” Cobb said.

Wednesday’s test was important for Cobb for those reasons. Overcoming the effects of a hit that made fellow receiver Jordy Nelson “sick” isn’t an easy thing for Cobb to do.

“Definitely there’s a mental block that I’ve got to run through,” Cobb said. “I’m at the point where I have to continue to work and continue to trust my body and trust that I’m healed.

“You’ve got to be fearless playing this game and I have to get to a point where I’m not thinking about my knee and I’m worried about what I’m doing on the field.”

Though Cobb mentioned his knee, that’s not the area of his injury. However, given the location of the tibia and the knee, it’s an indication of how impactful the injury can be to a player.

As soon as Cobb was hit near his knee by Baltimore Ravens safety Matt Elam in Week 6, Aaron Rodgers took issue with it.

“I just felt like (Elam) had enough time to make a hit in the legal hitting zone,” Rodgers said in his postgame press conference. “Now, the other safety came over and made actually a very knowledgeable point, which I appreciated a little intelligent banter back and forth, about some of the issues defensive players have to deal with in the target area. I totally understand that and get that.

“I just felt like, from my vantage point, he had plenty of time to not take out a guy’s legs in that situation. I think he could have hit in the proper hitting zone, and that’s what I told him.”

The NFL did not fine Elam for the hit, so the complaints from Rodgers fell on deaf ears at the league office.

“That’s way above my paygrade,” Cobb said Wednesday when asked about what the legal hitting zone of a player should be. “That’s something, hopefully, the NFL will consider in the offseason.”

Nelson searched for a solution that might not allow injuries like Cobb’s to happen in the future.

“I don’t know, it’s tough,” Nelson said. “I think they’ve done a lot to help the safety of football. If you continue to put more rules out there, which they kind of already have, that’s when guys don’t play full speed. Now with the head shots, guys are thinking about going low, so that’s what they’re doing.”

While that discussion is tabled for down the road, Cobb’s nine-game absence will likely become 10 missed games by Sunday. With the Packers’ regular-season finale in Chicago also quickly approaching, Cobb will have to hope that he sees a lot of progress in the next week.

“I’ve never been in a position where I’ve had to miss games like this,” Cobb said. “It’s very tough. It’s very frustrating. But it was still a blessing because it could have been a lot worse than it was. I try to have a positive outlook on where I’m at and the position I’m in.”

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