GREEN BAY, Wis. -- When last seen on a game field, Davante Adams was the Green Bay Packers’ offense.
The Pro Bowl receiver was 10 catches and 180 yards deep into the Week 4 game against the Philadelphia Eagles, and he had put his team in position to tie the score in the fourth quarter.
And then the big toe on his right foot bent back so far that it stretched the ligaments. He suffered turf toe, and the Packers suffered their first loss of the season.
Concern spread left and right about how the Packers would be able to compensate for the loss of their best offensive player not named Aaron Rodgers. Four games -- and four wins -- later, there are actually questions about how the Packers’ offense will integrate Adams now that it appears he’s ready to return for Sunday’s game at the Los Angeles Chargers.
First-year coach Matt LaFleur gave the obligatory “those are good problems to have” answer this week on the assumption that Adams will be back. He returned to practice on Wednesday and on Thursday went through a full-pads session for the first time since his injury.
In reality, LaFleur’s offense changed without Adams.
The evolution might have happened anyway as part of the natural process of a first-year coach’s offensive expansion, but Adams’ injury might have accelerated it out of necessity.
In Weeks 1-4, running back Aaron Jones totaled 270 total yards from scrimmage (55th among all NFL players). In Weeks 5-8, Jones totaled 551 (second among all players). Fellow back Jamaal Williams put up 142 total yards in the first four weeks (126th) and 203 in the past four weeks (70th).
“We've had to make some things work without Davante,” Rodgers said this week. “And a lot of it has been involving not just Aaron but Jamaal in the passing game and using their strengths.”
Receivers Jake Kumerow and Allen Lazard had little or no role before Adams’ injury. Now, they’ve become trusted members of Rodgers’ inner circle. Kumerow caught one pass for 12 yards in the first four games. He caught seven for 128 yards and a touchdown over the past four. Lazard didn’t catch a pass before Adams went down. He caught 12 for 149 yards and a touchdown over the past three games.
“I think there's a lot of opportunities and those guys don't automatically go to the bench or have a major diminished role,” Rodgers said. “I think you have to keep rolling those guys in and giving them opportunities. They've earned it. Allen and Jake especially, they've earned opportunities. So we’ve got to keep giving them a chance to get on the field and compete.”
Rodgers hardly could have been more complimentary to those who have filled in and stepped up during Adams’ absence, but don’t forget that Adams is the guy Rodgers said he wouldn’t mind targeting even more than he did last season when Adams missed the franchise record for catches in a season by one.
“He's gonna get attention for sure when he's out there,” Rodgers said. “It's not like the ball is gonna naturally go to him 15-20 times a game. I mean it will if he's open, but you would expect them to go back to trying to double him up and lock him down, which gives opportunities for other guys.”
And Rodgers surely has gained trust in those “other guys” after what they’ve done in Adams’ absence.
“Some guys that weren’t even expected to play at all this year stepped up and made some big plays,” Adams said. “Allen has stepped up and done more than I know anybody -- especially the outside world -- expected him to do. So that’s how you build chemistry with 12, and they’re good friends off the field, so that’s going to help even more when it’s time to rock and roll, even when I’m back.”
But Adams knows he’s not walking back into the same offense as before his injury. He’s been in every meeting and has watched most practices.
“Matt’s ability to situationally call [plays] has been really good,” Adams said. “He’s put some good drives together.”
For those worried about how effective Adams will be upon his return, perhaps the answer lies in how long he was out. Adams learned from what he experienced in 2015, when he tried to play through a bad ankle injury and didn’t perform up to anyone’s standards. He wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice.
“I expect him to pick up right where he left off, to be honest,” Lazard said. “To me, I think he’s the best receiver in the game right now just on how much he’s able to affect the defense and how many eyes he’s pulling every play.”