GREEN BAY, Wis. — The first week of training camp here has revealed an early test of the Green Bay Packers‘ shadow general manager, aka quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Two slot receivers — one a veteran whom Rodgers campaigned to acquire, the other a rookie drafted when Rodgers was contemplating his future — have each gotten work with the starters.
Packers fans and fantasy managers alike want to know how playing time and targets will shake out between Randall Cobb and Amari Rodgers. The Packers’ actual general manager, Brian Gutekunst, expressed confidence last week coach Matt LaFleur would find roles for both players. But make no mistake: Aaron Rodgers’ long and clear history of favoring veteran receivers should be the guiding light of this discussion.
“He’s a dear friend,” Rodgers said of Cobb, “and a guy that I still believe can really play.”
Over the years, Rodgers’ exacting expectations of receivers has reduced his reliance on rookies to levels unseen elsewhere in the NFL. Since his career as a starter began in 2008, Rodgers has never targeted a rookie receiver more than 68 times in a season (Marquez Valdes-Scantling in 2018). Every NFL team has had at least one rookie receiver targeted more frequently in a season than that, and overall there have been 101 rookies with between 69 and 144 targets in a season between 2008 and 2020. To be fair, the Packers have never used a first-round pick on a receiver when Rodgers was a starter. But 59 of those 101 rookies cited (58%) were not first-round picks.
In the time they played together, Cobb was Rodgers’ favorite receiver based on targets. He threw Cobb’s way 607 times between 2011 and 2018, 62 times more than fellow veteran Jordy Nelson. Cobb caught 71% of the passes Rodgers threw him, the highest catch percentage of any Packers receiver.
There was and remains a deep connection between the two, one Rodgers wanted to wring more production from in the twilight of their careers. Rodgers’ desire to influence Packers’ personnel moves, at least the ones that revolve around the passing game, was a big part of his offseason reluctance to return to the team. And as they rekindle their magic this summer, Amari Rodgers is undergoing the demanding process of earning his quarterback’s trust.
“[Cobb] already has the trust of 12,” he said, referring to Aaron Rodgers’ jersey number. “I’m just trying to earn the trust of 12, and every single day just learn the offense and get the gist of it so, when Sundays come, whenever we get our opportunities, we’re going to make those plays so we can win the Super Bowl.”
We’ve seen what happens when Rodgers has a short list of trusted receivers. Over the past two seasons, he has found ways to target veteran Davante Adams 277 times. The next most-frequently targeted pass-catcher has been tailback Aaron Jones (128), followed by Valdes-Scantling at 119. The 149-target difference between Adams and Jones is tied for the highest between the top two pass-catchers on any team in the NFL since the start of 2019, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. Adams’ 25.6% share of his team’s total targets is the second-highest in the NFL, behind DeAndre Hopkins (29.1% with the Houston Texans and Arizona Cardinals).
Adams is unquestionably one of the most talented receivers in football, of course, and it makes sense to target him as much as possible. But even in his rookie season, as a starter alongside Cobb and Nelson in 2014, he was targeted 68 times — 85 fewer than Nelson and 61 fewer than Cobb.
Amari Rodgers faces more obstacles than Adams did as a rookie, assuming Cobb stays healthy. (He has missed 14 games in the past three seasons due to injury.) Using both players in three-receiver sets would stretch LaFleur’s creative limits. Cobb has started 80% of his career snaps, and caught 44 of his 48 touchdown passes, from the slot. Amari Rodgers, meanwhile, ran 88% of his routes from the slot at Clemson in 2020.
In other words, neither has much experience working as an outside receiver. At least early in the season, that could lead to a focus on one-off plays such as bubble screens and backfield pitches for Amari Rodgers, as well as an emphasis on kick returns. Rodgers is an exceptional open-field runner and led the Power 5 last season with 602 yards after the catch on routes he ran from the slot.
“I knew as soon as I got drafted [that] every tiny bit of selfishness in me had to go out the window,” Amari Rodgers said. “Because I know the goal here is to win a Super Bowl and that’s my goal too. So I’m going to do everything in my power to help the team do that.”
Said Cobb: “I don’t care about how many snaps I get. I don’t care how many catches. I don’t care about how many yards, touchdowns. If you don’t know that about me now, I don’t know what else to tell you.”
Fortunately, the two receivers have a unique relationship that should minimize any hard feelings. Amari Rodgers is the son of former Tennessee quarterback Tee Martin, who was Cobb’s receivers coach during his final year at Kentucky in 2010. (Martin is now an assistant with the Baltimore Ravens.)
So, Cobb first met Amari Rodgers when Rodgers was 12 years old, and they have stayed in touch since. Upon his unexpected return to Green Bay, Cobb pledged to help the rookie get acclimated to the Packers’ culture. That starts with building trust with the quarterback, and the recent history in Green Bay tells us that it takes time.
Wild-card series: Day 1 takeaways and analysis, keys to Game 2
It. Is. On. Eight teams were in action as the first day of the 2023 MLB playoffs began with the best-of-three wild-card round.
The Game 1 action in the American League ended with the visiting Texas Rangers defeating the Tampa Bay Rays and the Minnesota Twins ending their 18-game postseason losing streak at home with a win over the Toronto Blue Jays. The National League took center stage in the evening, with the Arizona Diamondbacks upsetting the Milwaukee Brewers and the Philadelphia Phillies beating the Miami Marlins.
We’ve got you covered with takeaways, live updates and analysis from the Day 1 games, as well as one thing to know for each Game 2.
Philadelphia Phillies 4, Miami Marlins 1: On paper, the Marlins-Phillies was the biggest mismatch of the four wild-card series and that’s how Game 1 played out, with Zack Wheeler taking a shutout into the seventh and the Phillies knocking around Jesus Luzardo (five of their eight hits off him in his four innings of work were 104 mph or higher). It wasn’t quite an easy win for the Phillies, however, as the Marlins scratched across a run in the seventh thanks to a couple of infield singles and had the go-ahead run at the plate. Jose Alvarado came on and threw a from-another-planet 94-mph cutter to Yuli Gurriel to strike him out and end that threat. The Marlins had the tying run at the plate in the eighth but Jeff Hoffman came on and induced Jorge Soler to ground out. If Philadelphia’s bullpen keeps this up — and it’s deeper and better than last year’s pen — the Phillies have a chance to do more than just beat the Marlins. — David Schoenfield
One thing to know for Game 2: Last postseason, the Phillies rode the one-two punch of Wheeler and Aaron Nola deep into October. Wheeler did his part in Game 1 on Tuesday night, but Nola hasn’t been the same pitcher as he was a year ago, with a regular-season ERA rising to 4.46 in 2023 from 3.25 last season. Whether Nola can find that playoff touch again will play a big part in determining how far the Phillies go this month.
Arizona Diamondbacks 6, Milwaukee Brewers 3: For all the pre-series talk about Arizona’s speed, the Diamondbacks flashed the real winning postseason formula by mashing three homers over two innings off Milwaukee ace Corbin Burnes. The spree began with a 440-foot bomb by probable NL Rookie of the Year Corbin Carroll, who stole 59 bases during the season but has plenty of muscle, too.
For the Brewers, the lament of Game 1 is one of missed opportunities. Twice they loaded the bases without scoring, including with no outs in the fifth. After Brice Turang struck out, Tyrone Taylor lashed what looked like a go-ahead single to left but Evan Longoria, who turns 38 on Saturday and was no sure bet to start this game, made a lunging, leaping, tumbling snag which he turned into a threat-killing double play. Before the game, Longoria said, “A lot of these games are going to come down to one or two big moments. We have to be ready and be prepared for those.” He was ready and Arizona is up 1-0 with Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly lined up the next two days.
If the Brewers don’t win some of those big moments in Game 2, where they’ll have Freddy Peralta take the mound, they might never see Kelly. — Bradford Doolittle
One thing to know for Game 2: Taking the opener on the road is always nice, but in the D-backs’ case, winning Game 1 sets them up especially well for a potential series upset. Now Arizona hands the ball to ace Gallen in Game 2, with Kelly waiting, if needed, in Game 3, against a Brewers team that is without injured Brandon Woodruff.
Minnesota Twins 3, Toronto Blue Jays 1: The streak is over! The streak is over! This is not an exaggeration: The Twins’ 18-game postseason losing streak, dating back to 2004, was an unfathomable stretch of misery. Now that it’s ended and that burden eliminated, maybe the Twins can surprise in a wide-open AL bracket. Especially if Royce Lewis keeps hitting like this. The rookie was Minnesota’s best hitter but hadn’t played since Sept. 19 because of a hamstring injury. All he did was hit two home runs and drive in three runs against tough Kevin Gausman. Gausman challenged him with a 3-2 four-seamer in the first inning rather than his best pitch, a splitter, and Lewis crushed it for a two-run home run — just like he crushed four-seamers in the regular season. Feels like a bad pitch selection there from Gausman. Indeed, with Sonny Gray going in Game 2 against a Toronto lineup that just doesn’t scare you (Cavan Biggio hitting fifth?), the Twins might actually win their first postseason series since the 2002 ALDS. — Schoenfield
One thing to know for Game 2: Minnesota was rocking after the Twins finally ended their postseason losing streak in Game 1. Now they’ll try to clinch a spot in the ALDS against a familiar face in Game 2. Toronto starter Jose Berrios spent the first six years of his career in Minnesota before being dealt to the Blue Jays at the 2021 trade deadline. Berrios faces a tough task in his return to Target Field, with All-Star Gray set to take the mound for the Twins.
Texas Rangers 4, Tampa Bay Rays 0: The Max Scherzer acquisition got all the headlines at the trade deadline, but it’s a good thing Rangers general manager Chris Young traded for a second starting pitcher. Jordan Montgomery had a dominating performance against a high-powered Tampa Bay offense, tossing seven scoreless innings in the Rangers’ 4-0 victory. He has now allowed two runs in 34 innings in his past five starts and is looking like a postseason ace — even if an unusual one, since he’s not a big strikeout pitcher.
The other impressive performance: Rookie left fielder Evan Carter went 2-for-2 with two doubles and two walks (although Yandy Diaz should have made the play on one of the doubles). Carter is just 21 and didn’t make his MLB debut until Sept. 8, but he already looks like a star at the plate — he had a 1.058 OPS in his 23 regular-season games. Oh, and he hits ninth in the Rangers’ lineup. Yes, it’s a very good lineup.
The Rays played an awful game with four errors. Kevin Cash questionably left Tyler Glasnow in the game to start the sixth inning and Glasnow walked the first two batters, allowing the Rangers to put the game away with two more runs. — Schoenfield
One thing to know for Game 2: After winning 99 games in the regular season, the Rays will be putting their fate in the hands of Zach Eflin — who came to Tampa Bay as the highest-paid free agent signing in franchise history last offseason. Eflin was at his best at the Trop this year, going 11-4 with a 3.30 ERA and 10.4 strikeouts per nine innings, compared to 5-4 with a 3.77 ERA and 8.0 K/9 on the road.
Lewis’ 2 HRs put ‘win’ in Twins; slide ends at 18
MINNEAPOLIS — Royce Lewis smashed Minnesota’s 18-game postseason losing streak into the seats, homering in each of his first two at-bats to carry the Twins to a 3-1 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays in the opener of their AL Wild Card Series on Tuesday.
Lewis hit a two-run shot off Kevin Gausman in the first inning and a leadoff drive in the third, sending the home dugout and the sellout Target Field crowd into a frenzy.
“It means a lot, and it means a lot that the fans encouraged us,” Lewis told ESPN during his on-field interview. “They had that energy for us. They brought it, and we brought it for them.”
The bigger celebration occurred a few hours later when Jhoan Duran pitched a hitless ninth to close the first victory in the playoffs for the Twins since Oct. 5, 2004. They had the longest postseason losing streak in major North American professional sports. It was the first home win for the Twins in the playoffs since Game 1 of the ALCS in 2002 at the Metrodome.
Lewis was a 3-year-old then. He’s the type of big-time player — with five grand slams in 70 career games — that could lead the Twins on an actual postseason run instead of just hanging a division title banner and leaving the party after three or four days.
Returning from a left hamstring strain that kept him out for the last two weeks, Lewis became the third player in MLB history to hit home runs in each of his first two career postseason plate appearances, following Evan Longoria for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2008 and Gary Gaetti for the Twins in 1987.
Pablo Lopez also delivered a strong playoff debut for Minnesota, permitting one run and five hits in 5 2/3 innings. He wore a Johan Santana jersey to the ballpark, a nod to not only his Venezuelan boyhood hero but the last Twins pitcher to win a postseason game.
Gausman’s day for the Blue Jays was more bumpy, finishing four innings with three hits and three walks. The right-hander frequently asked for a new ball early in his outing and had trouble at one point with the wireless PitchCom device that is used to prevent sign stealing. Gausman had only one start shorter than this in 2023, when he logged 3 1/3 innings on May 4.
The teams will meet again Wednesday afternoon in Game 2 of the best-of-3 series (4:30 p.m., ESPN). Game 3 would be Thursday, with the entire series in Minnesota under MLB’s postseason format.
The Blue Jays finally got on the board when Kevin Kiermaier’s two-out single drove in Bo Bichette in the sixth, but they left nine runners on base.
The Blue Jays carried their own October angst into this series, having not won a postseason game since the 2016 ALCS. They took two-game sweeps as wild cards in 2020 and 2022, and Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. — two franchise cornerstones and the celebrated sons of former major leaguers — have not yet won a postseason game.
López and his four relievers got plenty of defensive help. Michael A. Taylor made a diving catch of a sharp line drive to center by Alejandro Kirk in the second and a leaping grab at the wall to take an extra-base hit away from a fuming Matt Chapman in the sixth. Max Kepler crashed against the same padding to catch Guerrero’s long fly ball in the fourth.
The most vital play of all was later in that inning, when Kiermaier’s two-out roller eluded third baseman Jorge Polanco as Bichette rounded for home with two outs. Carlos Correa backed him up from shortstop and threw a strike to the plate to get Bichette and end the inning.
The Gausman-López matchup marked the first time that the top two strikeout pitchers during the regular season in one league faced each other in the playoffs since Justin Verlander and CC Sabathia in Game 1 of the Tigers-Yankees ALDS in 2011.
Blue Jays: RHP Jose Berrios (11-12, 3.65 ERA) will start Game 2 against the team he pitched 5½ seasons for until a trade to Toronto on July 30, 2021. He made postseason starts for the Twins in 2019 and 2020. “I love pitching in this ballpark because the dugout is so close, so I look like I throw 100,” Berríos said.
Twins: RHP Sonny Gray (8-8, 2.79 ERA) will take the mound Wednesday for the first postseason start for the 11-year veteran since 2017 in Game 4 of the ALDS for the Yankees.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Buffs star Hunter likely to miss next two games
“Let’s say two or three [weeks],” said Sanders, when asked about Hunter’s recovery. “It would be my dream and desire for him to stay out until after the bye week.”
The Buffaloes (3-2, 0-2 Pac-12) play at Arizona State on Saturday and host Stanford next week before they will have a week off before traveling to UCLA on Oct. 28.
“Travis is doing well,” Sanders said. “He was out of practice today coaching his butt off. He’s one of the best coaches we have.”
Hunter suffered the injury during Colorado’s win against Colorado State on Sept. 16. With him unavailable, the Buffaloes have lost their past two games, to Oregon (42-6) and USC (48-41).
In 10 quarters prior to the injury, Hunter, whom Sanders has called the team’s best player on both sides of the ball, had 16 receptions for 233 yards on offense and an interception, two pass breakups and nine tackles on defense.
Colorado was also without Sanders’ son, safety Shilo Sanders, against USC on Saturday, but his return is expected to come sooner, the coach said.
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