Bennett looking for more from Jones, Nelson, Cobb
Edgar Bennett doesn't like being labeled.
It's partly why the former Packers running back embraced the challenge of becoming Green Bay's receivers coach two years ago. It's also why, as Green Bay begins the process of rebuilding its receiving corps, there is no favored status for James Jones, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb.
With Greg Jennings gone and Donald Driver retired, everyone — productive veterans and newcomers alike — will have to step up.
"Just because they're veteran guys, that doesn't mean that they stop learning, they stop growing," Bennett said. "I'm looking at it as a unit, and the unit must continue to grow. The unit must continue to get better. We add players here and there — we added some last year — but the unit's got to continue to grow and get better and improve."
After a two-day minicamp last week, the Packers have their final OTA before training camp Tuesday.
Though Jennings finished with a career-low 366 yards last season after missing half the year with a torn lower abdominal muscle, and Driver played sparingly, their absences still leave big holes to fill. Jennings was Aaron Rodgers' primary target in the quarterback's first four years as a starter, going over the 1,000-yard mark from 2008-2010 and coming up just short in 2011. Driver is the Packers all-time leading receiver, and though he had only eight catches last year, two were for touchdowns.
"It's different, but we knew this day would come where all of us wouldn't be together. We were kind of prepared for it," Jones said. "We've got a good group, a good team, so we're excited about what's going on."
And if any team is prepared to absorb the loss of Jennings and Driver, it's the Packers.
With Jennings hurt, Cobb and Jones made the most of their expanded playing time last year. Jones tied a Packers record with two touchdowns in three straight games, and finished with 14 TD receptions. Cobb enjoyed a breakout season with 954 yards receiving and eight touchdowns on 80 catches — all this while still returning kicks. Jones had 14 TD receptions. Nelson missed four games with a bad hamstring, yet still finished with 745 yards, the second highest of his career, and led the receivers with a 15.2 yards-per-catch average.
"I've been on record as saying that I believe we have three 1,000-yard receivers in this room. I believe me, Randall and Jordy, if we all stay healthy, we can all reach over 1,000," Jones said. "It's exciting and we're all excited because we know the departure of Greg and Donald means more opportunities for us. Do you want to lose guys like that? No. But it gives us the chance to step up."
That the focus will be on Jones, Nelson and Cobb is understandable because of their past production.
But Bennett doesn't want anyone getting too comfortable. History means little once a new season begins, and Rodgers' favorite receiver has always been the one who is open.
"Just because someone labels you or gives you a tag or this accolade you really like, you've got to earn it every day. You can't just be satisfied," Bennett said. "We're always chasing championships and that's not the way to go about doing it if you feel, 'OK, I've made it.' No, you haven't made it. You want to be the best.
"So, mindset wise, it's about continuing to improve, continuing to be the best you can possibly be so we continue to put ourselves in position to win championships."
That relentless mindset is what's helped Bennett to make a successful transition from running back to receivers coach.
A member of the Packers Hall of Fame, Bennett still ranks 10th on Green Bay's all-time rushing list with 3,353 yards in five seasons. In 1995, he became Green Bay's first 1,000-yard back in 17 years, running for 1,067 yards. As the running backs coach from 2005-11, he oversaw the development of Ryan Grant and James Starks, and transformed Samkon Gado from an undrafted, practice squad player into a running back with the second-best rookie numbers in Green Bay history.
Yet when he was asked to take over the receivers, Bennett never hesitated.
"To be honest with you, not wanting to be labeled a running backs coach," he said of the transition. "You want to be fundamentally sound. You want to be a good teacher. Those are the things I take pride in. I want to be a communicator and I want to make my players accountable. That's really the bottom line. Veteran guys, young guys — they're no different. You want to continue to educate as far as your teaching ability, and then you want to hold those guys accountable."
Bennett is a stickler for technique and fundamentals — he still holds the Packers' single-season record for receptions by a running back — and he's tireless when it comes to finding ways to help his players improve. But it's his refusal to be satisfied that makes the biggest impact.
"He pushes us to a certain limit that you may not have thought you could take yourself," Jones said. "... It's never good enough for him. If you catch a ball and you get tackled by one dude, it's not good enough to EB. So he just pushes us every day to get better. In practice, he'll never take a day off of us.
"He's always riding us, and it shows up on Sunday."
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