GREEN BAY, Wisconsin — Colby Pearson won’t soon forget his first practice with the Green Bay Packers.
When Pearson lined up at wide receiver to run a route, he looked over to see who would be throwing to him. It was Aaron Rodgers.
Yes, that Aaron Rodgers. The one who could go down as one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history.
Pearson was in awe when he prepared for the pass, but once the ball was in the air, he was just playing catch with another quarterback.
“I was just like, ‘Oh, don’t drop it.’ I caught it,” Pearson said. “It’s great. He’s an awesome quarterback, awesome leader. So that’s been quite the experience being able to catch balls from him.”
In the 11 weeks since signing with the Packers, the former Blackfoot High School star and BYU wideout has been trying to make a name for himself in Green Bay. Pearson latched onto the rival Chicago Bears after going undrafted and spent two weeks with the organization at a minicamp in May. After being released, Green Bay picked him up and inked a contract June 1.
Pearson is one of 12 wide receivers competing in the Packers’ training camp. He is one of five rookie wideouts, three of whom were undrafted. The competition at the Green Bay camp is fierce.
“It’s been a real positive, really cool experience,” Pearson said. “I’ve had a great time, learned a lot. I’m just itching to get back out there now.”
Pearson has been sidelined since spraining his right ankle Aug. 5 during the team’s annual Family Night practice at Lambeau Field. He ran a nice pattern and hauled in a 19-yard pass from backup quarterback Brett Hundley. Unfortunately, Pearson landed on cornerback Kevin King’s foot and turned his ankle.
On Tuesday afternoon, Pearson said his ankle didn’t feel too bad, but he’s listed as day-to-day by the team’s medical staff. He had to sit out the Packers’ preseason opener against the Philadelphia Eagles on Aug. 10. Pearson is trying to stay optimistic he’ll play in this Saturday’s game at the Washington Redskins.
The 22-year-old is trying to stay busy during his time away from the field.
“A lot of bike, cardio. Keep my wind up,” Pearson said. “Then, a lot of ankle, muscle strengthening exercises and stuff. I’m using this extra time to study the playbook a little bit extra and make sure mentally everything’s there.”
Pearson, who finished his career at BYU with 76 catches for 864 yards and eight touchdowns, feels like he’s in a great situation in Green Bay. He’s learning from some of the best wide receivers in the league in Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams and Randall Cobb.
“That’s been awesome,” Pearson said. “The vets have been great, really helpful. I’ve learned more in my time here than the whole rest of my life, so it’s been really cool.”
Pearson has picked up “little things” from the veterans, just by watching them catch passes. He spent the preseason opener on the sideline watching how his fellow wide receivers ran routes and worked on their footwork.
“A lot of times, you can just watch them and see what they do, but then when they pull you to the side and say, ‘I watched, try this next time,’” Pearson said. “Little things like that that help and really boost your game to the next level.”
Pearson said he’s become a better player just in the three weeks since training camp started.
“I would just say route running and route savvy,” Pearson said. “Being smarter against different looks that the defense is lining up and giving me. Kind of just being comfortable in different scenarios and how to run my route differently with different coverages.”
Hundley has thrown to Pearson quite a bit in practice and has been impressed by his route running, awareness of the game and speed (Pearson ran a 4.43 40-yard dash at BYU’s Pro Day).
“Colby’s just a phenomenal player,” Hundley said.
Pearson’s quarterback for three years at BYU, Taysom Hill, is one of his teammates with the Packers. Hill has enjoyed watching Pearson do well early on in camp.
“Colby’s made the most of his opportunities,” said Hill, who is Pearson’s roommate during training camp. “He obviously had a little setback with the injury, but hopefully he can get things rolling again and continue to do what he’s done in practice. He’s done a good job.”
Former BYU running back Jamaal Williams is also on the Packers’ roster. Pearson loves being on an NFL team with two guys he’s known for a number of years.
“If I could have picked a team, it probably would have been here, because those guys were here,” Pearson said. “It was really good having them, because I came later. So it was good to have Taysom and Jamaal, who really helped me out and helped me catch up with the offense and mentally take me through some stuff.”
Pearson hopes he’s back on the field soon to start taking valuable reps again. He needs as many downs and practices as possible to catch up for lost time.
Last season, the Packers kept seven wide receivers on their opening day roster. Nelson, Adams and Cobb are locks. Jeff Janis, who is valuable as a special teams player, and Geronimo Allison, who made an impact late last season as an undrafted free agent, are in prime positions to make the team again. Trevor Davis has shown flashes as a pass catcher and punt returner. Throw in the team’s two draft picks from this season, DeAngelo Yancey and Malachi Dupre, and that’s eight receivers. Cutdown day for NFL teams to trim their rosters to 53 is Sept. 3.
Pearson said he needs to show the coaching staff he can be a valuable asset in the passing game.
“First of all, I need to get healthy and back out on the field — it’s really slowing me down,” Pearson said. “But once I get out there, just need to make a couple big plays and show them my consistency. I think a big thing they’re going to look for is getting open, so I need to get open and make the plays when they’re there and presented to me. So if I can do that and show a little bit of speed and a little athleticism, then hopefully I can earn a spot.”