Randle Cobb: A man of many talents
By Jason Wilde, ESPN Milwaukee
~GREEN BAY – As chapeaus go, Randall Cobb could not have chosen a more perfect one to wear after practice on Saturday afternoon: A camouflage baseball-style hat with a thick, block Kentucky K in black on the front.
Both qualities were perfect tips of the cap (insert groan here) to the most versatile weapon in the Green Bay Packers potent offense: Camouflage, because opponents this season will be constantly searching for him in the Packers’ varied offensive formations, and Kentucky, because his role could be a throwback to his college days, when he did just about everything but work on the sideline chain-gang.
“I think that’s one of the reasons they drafted me last year, because of my versatility to do different things,” Cobb said after practice Saturday. “I love the game of football, and regardless of the spot I’m playing or where I’m at on the field, I just like having fun. Being on a team with so many weapons and still being able to contribute in so many different ways, we’re just trying to find out what we can do with it.
“I’ve been playing many positions since I was a kid, so whatever it is, I want to help this team get to a Super bowl. That’s my job is to do whatever I have to do to contribute and be a threat anywhere I can. We have a lot of guys on this team and a lot of weapons. (The coaches are) trying to find ways to use what I bring to the table and try to go from there with it.”
And Cobb certainly brings a lot to the table.
As a rookie second-round pick last season, Cobb’s primary role was as the team’s kick and punt returner, where he finished the season with 27.7-yard kickoff return average (second in the NFL, including a team-record 108-yard return for a touchdown) and 11.3-yard punt return average (seventh in NFL, including an 80-yard return for a touchdown).
But he did much more than that. He caught 25 passes for 375 yards and a touchdown, a role in the passing game that should only increase this year. He carried the ball twice for 5 yards – for a 1-yard gain on a shotgun handoff from Aaron Rodgers when he came in motion at Minnesota on Oct. 23, and for a 4-yard gain on a direct snap with Rodgers on the sideline at Kansas City on Dec. 18. He also threw a pass, taking a handoff from Ryan Grant and throwing incomplete for Greg Jennings on a reverse against the New York Giants on Dec. 4.
Now, coach Mike McCarthy isn’t going to turn back the clock to Cobb’s college days at Kentucky, where he attempted 122 career passes (his primary position was quarterback as a true freshman in 2008), had 228 rushing attempts (lining up at quarterback, running back and on receiver end arounds/reverses), caught 144 passes (including 84 in his final season, when his official position became receiver) and returned 110 kickoffs and punts (on which he scored two touchdowns).
But, McCarthy is well aware of Cobb’s versatility, and in his multidimensional offense, the coach will have a chance to get even more creative with Cobb than he was last year.
“It’s important to always try to create schemes where you’re giving people the opportunity to make plays,” said McCarthy, who had Cobb take a few handoffs from Rodgers in practice Saturday.
Cobb’s most valuable role on offense, of course, will be at receiver, where he can line up both in the slot and out wide. Wide receivers coach Edgar Bennett, speaking at the end of the minicamp last month, was breathless about Cobb’s potential as a receiver and hinted about Cobb’s varied role in the offense.
“Wow. Wow. Wow. You know what? It’s going to be fun to watch, fun to watch that young player continue to develop and become the player he’s capable of becoming,” Bennett said. “We never label our guys as far as, ‘He’s a slot receiver,’ but … He’s outstanding in the slot, but he’s not one-dimensional. This guy is a really good football player, and I think moving forward, you’ll see why. When you look at some of the things we have in place for him, he’s a really good football player. Not a really good receiver, really good football player. I’m talking about tough, smart, savvy. It’ll be fun to watch.”
Cobb had some phenomenal moments as a pass-catcher the past two days in practice, going up high against Tramon Williams and Charles Woodson to haul in a deep ball from Rodgers during Friday morning’s practice inside the Hutson Center, and delivering a couple of huge plays Saturday, including getting behind Sam Shields to haul in another deep throw from Rodgers in 11-on11.
The only drawback to Cobb’s day – and it was a significant one – was that he dropped three passes, by unofficial count. One was on a slant from Rodgers where he’d beaten his man off the line of scrimmage and had nothing but open space in front of him on what surely would have been a touchdown. Much like his return game, where he had the two touchdowns but also coughed up three fumbles, Cobb must become more consistent in his second season.
“That’s the majority of the focus. Consistency is something I’m trying to build,” said Cobb, who admitted he just got “excited” when he broke open on the dropped slant. “Last year I didn’t feel like I was very consistent in different aspects of the game and I’m trying to correct that this year.”
Cobb also acknowledged that he worries that his multi-faceted role might prevent him from becoming the best receiver he can be – “If you’re not doing one thing, you’re not going to get as good as you can” at that one thing, he said – but at the same time, Cobb appears to be the kind of person who can multi-task exceptionally well.
After all, this is a guy who’s taken a class each of the past two years during training camp to continue working toward his communications/leadership development degree. Last year, while learning a playbook he didn’t see until the first day of camp, he managed to learn all the receiver positions while earning a B grade in a political science class. This year, he’s got an A going into next week’s final exam for an early child development class, and he’ll spend Sunday’s day off studying.
Cobb also has done extensive studying of the Packers’ playbook, and after catching a 32-yard touchdown pass in the regular-season opener against New Orleans last season despite running the wrong route, he said he has yet to be charged with a mental error during offseason practices or the first week of training-camp practices.
“The biggest thing is just having an understanding of our offense and understanding what we’re trying to accomplish, and not being thrown into the fire like I was last training camp,” Cobb said. “I’ve had an offseason to build chemistry with Aaron to where he has more trust in me.”
Cobb also spent much of the offseason refining his route-running, and given what a stickler Rodgers is for precise routes and avoiding mental mistakes, that increased trust from the quarterback could translate into increased production from Cobb, who many predict to be one of this season’s breakout players in the NFL.
For his part, though, Cobb couldn’t care less. He’s more concerned with learning the intricacies of the offense – including offensive linemen’s blocking assignments, he said Saturday – than finding out where he ranks on fantasy football draft boards.
“You do hear and see that stuff, but I don’t care about the spotlight, I just want to play ball,” Cobb said. “I’m not too big into attention. Full story here