Packers Mum on Cobb's Expanded Role
by Mike Conklin
September 3, 2012
Maybe the Packers espouse the old idea that "young people should be seen and not heard."
Even with a year under his belt, Randall Cobb is still the youngest player on the Packers roster. Coming off of a season where he set the all time franchise rookie record with 1,616 combined yards (which had stood since 1952), it would be reasonable to think that the Packers would want to feature this ascending young player now in his second season.
If they are, they're not letting on.
There has been some speculation recently that the Packers were sandbagging B.J. Coleman, in hopes that if there weren't much film or buzz about him they would be more likely to sneak him on to their practice squad. While we will never really know whether that's true or not, the same case could be made for Randall Cobb and his role in the Packers offense this year.
Cobb is a dynamic playmaker, as evidenced by the fact that he obliterated the aforementioned rookie record previously held by Packers Hall of Fame member Billy Howton by nearly 400 yards. As opposed to Howton, who led the NFL in receiving his rookie season, Cobb's effect was mostly limited to special teams last year. He only touched the ball 27 times on offense, scoring just one touchdown.
Cobb wasn't helped by the fact that there was a lockout last year, so his exposure to the offense was done on the fly. He also is on a team that is stacked at wide receiver, with all four of the veteran players in front of him having at least one 50+ catch season under their belts. The Packers offense was humming last season, so there was little need to make changes during the season to get Cobb more involved.
At this point, Mike McCarthy and his new offensive coordinator Tom Clements know what they have in Cobb, and have had a full offseason to assess exactly how they want to work him into their plans. Despite that fact, there was little evidence of any expanded role for Cobb during the preseason. Cobb managed eight receptions for 93 yards in limited playing time. Those weren't bad numbers, and Cobb looked good when he was on the field. But if the Packers are planning to use him differently or more frequently this year, they are not tipping their hand.
In college at the University of Kentucky, Cobb was Mr. Everything. He started four games at quarterback as a true freshman in the SEC. As a junior he was the only player in major college football to rank first or second on the team in receiving, rushing and passing. He set the SEC single-season record for all-purpose yards in a season with 2,396. His coaches designed offensive sets specifically for him, calling it the WildCobb offense. He set the record for most touchdowns in Kentucky history, despite only playing three seasons.
Even though the Packers have the reigning MVP playing quarterback and are not likely to make big changes to the offense, they always install a few new concepts each offseason. Whether or not Cobb will be featured heavily in these formations remains to be seen, but there may have been a few clues along the way to indicate that could be the case.
Earlier this year during the OTA's, Aaron Rodgers commented how Donald Driver missed out on a "couple new wrinkles" in the offensive installations. Although that is a very vague reference, it is hard not to think that Cobb may somehow be involved. On the practice field during training camp, Cobb lined up in the slot, on the outside, and even in the backfield. The Packers practiced running a couple reverses, and Cobb even did a pass on a reverse at least one time. During one practice session, Cobb was pulled aside by his position coach Edgar Bennett and worked on throwing a series of lobs and fades into the end zone.
Whether or not the Packers use any of these plays on Sundays this fall remains to be seen, but it is a good bet that they will use Cobb in a few ways we haven't seen before. They likely will even throw in a gadget play here or there.
While there is a school of thought that a team with a quarterback of Rodgers' caliber should not take the ball out of his hands, using various plays and formations with Cobb would give opposing defenses one more thing to consider.
"Align Cobb in the backfield, in bunch sets, stack looks and use pre-snap motion," suggested Matt Bowen, former Packers player and current writer for the National Football Post. "Why not use Cobb in some one-back sets, let him press the edge of the defense in the outside zone or crack toss? And, more importantly, get it all on tape. That’s the key. Because when defensive coordinators see this guy aligned all over the field, it puts stress on their own game plan as well as forcing them to dedicate practice time to one player."
For his part, Cobb embraces the role of jack-of-all-trades.
"Focusing in on one thing, I wouldn’t be able to show talents in other areas," said Cobb. "But showing talents and being very versatile, you can’t master one thing. So it’s all about trying to build that talent and that skill through all the different things all together.”
In order to have success in such a variety of roles, Cobb knows that he will have to be on top of his game mentally if he wants to succeed and earn the trust of the coaches. He seems to be doing that so far.
"I don’t know what it is," Cobb said. "My coaches always said I had some kind of ‘it’ factor back in college and high school. I just pick up stuff. I hold onto it and try to leave it in my memory. Whatever I’m doing, I just remember those things."
His strong memory and football sense helped him get on the field as a rookie, even in a lockout-shortened training camp. He credits the work he put in off the field.
"I'm a film junkie," said Cobb. "I like to know the system, everything. I'm trying to learn all the aspects of the offense. Not just the plays."
Because Cobb isn't a physically imposing receiver like a Calvin Johnson or Larry Fitzgerald, he knows that he will have to gain an edge other ways. Some of it may be by taking advantage of his versatile skill set. But Cobb also realizes he has to master the mental aspect of the game.
"I'm an undersized guy so I have to work that much harder at it," Cobb said last year. "I'm talented but I'm not as physically gifted as a lot of other people. I have to use my strengths in other ways. I'm one of the smallest, but I can be one of the smartest."
That's just fine with Mike McCarthy, who regularly comments about the importance of the mental side of football.
"The smartest players have always been the best players, in my experience,” said McCarthy.
We'll find out starting this week just how much more the Packers plan to work Cobb into their game plan, and whether or not he will be able to make a bigger impact this year. The guess here is that they have been sandbagging a little bit on Cobb this offseason, and he will add a different dimension to the offense.
If Cobb were Terrell Owens, he might just tell us to get our popcorn ready.
Photo Credit: Green Bay Press Gazette