Packers’ Cobb seeks expanded offensive role

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Randall Cobb doesn’t want to be a kick returner forever. But for now, getting the ball on special teams is another way for the Packers’ speedy second-year receiver to show his versatility and be a threat in multiple ways.

“Hopefully at some point I’ve validated myself as a receiver where a younger guy can take over that role,” Cobb said Thursday.

With the depth that Green Bay has at wide receiver, Cobb wasn’t given as many opportunities on offense last year as most highly skilled second-round picks would get on an NFL team.

Cobb played only 309 snaps on offense as a rookie, according to ProFootballFocus.com. Considering that fellow Packers receiver James Jones had 555 snaps and veteran Donald Driver had 563, Cobb was clearly not a focal point of the offense in his first NFL season. The team’s top two receivers, Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson, were even busier, playing 713 and 699 snaps, respectively.

But on special teams, Cobb added a dimension that the Packers had been searching for. It was one of the main reasons general manager Ted Thompson used the team’s 64th overall pick to bring Cobb to Green Bay in 2011.

As a rookie, Cobb ran back one punt and one kickoff for a touchdown, while taking a total of six returns for more than 40 yards.

Soon, however, Cobb wants to contribute on offense the way he did on special teams.

“I hope I’ve validated myself into this offense, being a bigger contributor,” Cobb said. “I hope to have a better season than I did last year, see improvement in myself and hopefully help contribute and get us to a Super Bowl.”

Cobb, who evaluated his rookie season as having only “moderate” success, caught 25 passes for 375 yards and one touchdown.

In order to get on the field more, Cobb believes he needs to improve his consistency and route running. But even as he continues to learn, Cobb gives offensive play-calling head coach Mike McCarthy a lot of options. Cobb was a quarterback in his freshman season in college at Kentucky and has the talent to force opposing defenses to game plan against him more than an average receiver.

“I think (McCarthy) likes my skill set and the different things we’re able to do,” Cobb said.

The rest of the Packers’ receivers are really excited at the idea of what the 5-foot-10, 192-pound Cobb can bring to the offense if he becomes more involved.

“He’s probably the most versatile player we have on this team, to be honest with you,” Jones said. “What people don’t know, he’s strong. For being little, he’s strong. He plays physical. He plays like he’s about 6-5, 330 (pounds). To be 5-6 — we’re always messing with him — to be 5-6, 125, he plays big. You need that.

“His value is you can line him up anywhere and he’s going to be effective. You can put him in the backfield, you can put him at wide receiver, you can put him as the kick returner and punt returner, you can put him inside receiver, you can put him outside receiver.

“He does it all on a high level.”

Cobb ran the ball twice last season for five yards and also threw one incomplete pass. But there may be more of those types of plays in McCarthy’s offense this season.

“He’s another tool we have,” Nelson said. “Every one of us has a different skill that we offer to the offense. His is his versatility, everything he can do. He’s continued to develop as a pure receiver, I think, getting comfortable in our offense and reading coverages and getting a feel for how Aaron (Rodgers) wants things done.”

Nelson, also a second-round pick, got a lot more playing time as a rookie than Cobb did three years later.

“Sometimes that’s one of the biggest adjustments, especially like his situation at Kentucky where he got the ball the majority of the time doing everything,” Nelson said. “It’s a little adjustment and you just have to make the most out of your opportunities. Once Aaron starts feeling comfortable with you, building confidence with you, you’ll get more opportunities.”

Though Cobb will likely play more than the 309 offensive snaps he did a year ago, it could be a challenge for McCarthy to get him significantly more involved. All five of Green Bay’s wide receivers from last season are back, including Jennings and Nelson, both of whom finished in the top 10 in the NFL in multiple receiving categories.

“When you step in this locker room, you realize, especially in our (wide receivers) room, you see the vets in front of you and nothing’s handed to you here,” Nelson said. “You’re going to have to come in and earn it. When your time comes, you don’t ever know when it’s going to be. But when you get that opportunity, you just have to make the most of it.”

Cobb noted how much he improved just by watching Jennings, Nelson, Driver and Jones play, specifically by paying close attention to their route running. But as Cobb waits to find out just how much he’ll be a part of the offense this season, he just wants to make sure it’s an improvement over what he did as a rookie.

“I don’t think I was as good as I could have been (last season),” Cobb said. “I’m just trying to improve from last year and take it to another level this year.”

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