GRAND CHUTE, Wis.––Considering the circumstances, it would have been understandable if Randall Cobb was intimidated.
On Sunday he attended Donald Driver’s fifth annual Celebrity Softball Game, a charity event that drew a sold-out crowd of 8,745 fans to Fox Cities Stadium near Appleton.
That’s coming on the heels of Driver’s victory in the reality television series Dancing With The Stars through which he’s become a national pop-culture icon.
Driver is also the longest-tenured player currently on the Packers roster and is the franchise’s all-time leadng receiver.
Without question, Driver has become one of the most beloved figures in team history for what he’s done both on and off the field.
And whether it’s one year, two years or more, Cobb may very well be receiving the majority of snaps at the slot wide receiver position, a pace off the line of scrimmage, that Driver manned for so many years in Green Bay.
Those are some big shoes to fill. But if you’re to take him at his word, Cobb isn’t nervous.
“There’s no intimidation; there’s no reason to,” said Cobb on Sunday. “I’ve been playing this game for a while.”
Still in Titletown
Despite speculation that the Packers could have cut Driver in favor of a young and deep corps of wide receivers, a renegotiated deal struck last week assured––at least for the time being––that Driver will remain in Green Bay.
The Packers and Driver reportedly agreed to a restructured one-year contract that cut his salary in half from $5 million to $2.5 million in 2012.
To that end, Cobb doesn’t see himself as replacing a living legend.
“I’m playing football; I’m playing for the Packers,” said Cobb. “There’s no legacy, Donald’s still out here playing. It’s not like he’s gone.”
Pretty much ever since the 2011 season ended with a playoff loss to the New York Giants, speculation revolved the future of Driver.
Under general manager Ted Thompson, the Packers haven’t been afraid to cut veterans they perceived as past their prime, even popular ones. The list is long, ranging from Al Harris to Mark Tauscher to Chad Clifton.
The question was, would the Packers continue to play an aging veteran like Driver at the expense of players like Cobb who are younger, arguably faster and entering the prime of their career?
Whether or not Driver steals playing time from receivers better than himself remains to be seen. Even though he’s not as spry as he once used to be, Driver hasn’t fallen off the map yet.
Plus, his leadership and locker-room presence obviously are valued. And for that, Cobb is in debt.
“I’m glad he’s back,” said Cobb of Driver. “Donald has been like a father figure to me. I’ve learned so much from him off the field and on the field and having him here for another year is going to be a great experience for the both of us.”
As far living up to the billing of Driver between the lines, from the slot receiver position that aligns somewhere between the tackle and the flanker, Cobb prefers to deflect the attention.
“We all play it; we all play that position,” said Cobb. “Everybody plays the slot. There’s no one person that plays the slot. It doesn’t matter who’s out there, we all got to play.”
Cobb is right, to an extent. Every receiver on the roster, even the tight ends, line up in the slot from time to time whether it’s Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson or Jermichael Finley.
Conversely, Driver has lined up on the perimeter as the outermost wide receiver innumerable times over the course of his career.
But it’s the slot where Driver buttered his bread. Some of the most enduring images of the cagey veteran are him fearlessly running routes to the middle of the field from his slot position, taking a punishing shot from a defender and bouncing up as if nothing happened.
In all likelihood, the 5-10 Cobb will make his living the same way. As a shorter receiver, the Packers will take advantage of his skill set by utilizing him primarily from the slot.
But to be fair, Cobb and Driver are different players with varying strengths and weaknesses.
Driver is lithe as they come, lean and strong with the leaping ability of an Olympic high jumper.
Cobb, meanwhile, is a jitterbug. As quick as he is fast, Cobb is known as much for his ability to return kicks and punts as he is his receiving ability, at least so far in his career.
Passing the Torch
Based upon his performance in 2011, some might argue that Cobb is on the verge of a breakout.
In just his rookie year, Cobb was given the distinction of having the league’s Play of the Year, an accolade given at NFL Honors, an awards ceremony televised the night before the Super Bowl.
He was also named an alternate to the Pro Bowl as a kick return specialist.
Indeed, Cobb’s return exploits overshadowed his 25 receptions for 375 yards and one touchdown as a rookie as he averaged 27.7 yards on 34 kick returns and 11.3 yards on 26 punt returns, recording one touchdown on each.
Production like that is creeping into Donald Driver territory, which saw him turn 37 catches in 445 yards and six touchdowns in 2011, not to mention his three for 45 and a score in the playoffs.
With such talent at the wide receiver position, Driver knows the struggle for playing time is going to be intense among a position group that’s arguably the best in the NFL.
“It’s always going to be competitive,” said Driver. “It’s not going to ever change. That’s the name of this game. The young guys come in, the old guys sometimes go out. But it’s goign to be a battle and you’re goign to continue to fight. At the end of the day, the best man is going to play this game, regardless of the situation.”
Cobb isn’t one to lobby for snaps, however. For the time being, he’s happy to be able to learn from a veteran that’s so talented, even entering his 14th year in the NFL.
“It blows my mind,” said Cobb. “You know, I always hear about how he moves and everything, and you saw it in his Dancing With The Stars. It’s just great to see he still has the ability after so many years.”