GREEN BAY – Word was circulating early in the week it was going to be the first play of the game.
Then Saturday, during the team’s walk-through and again on the plane headed for Atlanta, Packers rookie receiver Dontayvion Wicks got confirmation on the flea-flicker.
Head Coach Matt LaFleur was going to call it on the first snap, and if the Falcons were in the coverage the Packers anticipated, the deep ball was coming to Wicks.
“Yeah, it was exciting knowing before the game, before we got to the locker room, that they had that dialed up and we were looking to score first play,” Wicks said. “It was exciting knowing that the whole team knew.”
Whether LaFleur takes an opening swing like that in Sunday’s home opener against the Saints at Lambeau Field remains to be seen, but his decision in Week 2 said something about how the coaches view the fifth-round draft pick from Virginia.
It was quite the show of faith in Wicks, a young player who after missing sizable portions of training camp to injuries has had a bigger opportunity than expected to start his NFL career. To his credit, he delivered.
The Falcons were indeed in the anticipated coverage, and it was up to Wicks to not give anything away. He had to act like it was a running play, move into position to block a defensive back, and then, at the right time, slip behind everybody.
“It was fun and I was nervous at the same time. I’ve got to sell it for the QB to be able to have an open hole to throw it to,” Wicks said. “I knew that was an opportunity, that was a chance, to get a big one. Having the patience that I had to have on that play to get open, that’s all I was thinking about.”
Wicks did his job and was indeed open, only to have Falcons cornerback A.J. Terrell tackle him deep downfield to prevent a touchdown. The defensive pass interference penalty was worth 44 yards, but unfortunately the Packers couldn’t turn that chunk of yardage into points.
But the ball didn’t stop going to Wicks, which continued to say something for a player who spent much of August on the sideline, and whose Week 1 debut in Chicago featured zero catches and two fourth-quarter penalties (false start, holding).
His playing time has come out of necessity, largely due to receiver Christian Watson‘s hamstring injury, but it’s also worth noting he was running with the No. 1 offense in training camp before getting hurt. He’s doing something right, and showing attractive potential, to keep getting his number called.
In the second quarter, on third down in the red zone, Jordan Love threw a beautiful pass over the top that Wicks nearly hauled in for a TD. He might’ve snagged it if not for Terrell grabbing one of his arms in the end zone, but the contact was timed so close to the ball’s arrival it’s chalked up to good defense by Terrell.
Perhaps if Wicks had waited another beat or two before reaching his arms out – a receiving technique called “late hands” – he might’ve had it.
He was finally able to maximize on his next big chance, though, catching a crossing route from Love in the third quarter, breaking a tackle, and scoring from 32 yards out for his first NFL touchdown.
“I know J-Love’s timing … know what he’s looking for, know where he’s looking first,” Wicks said. “I know when I have to have a little speed and tempo in my route. Just being able to cross (the defender’s) face, I knew I would give J-Love a chance.”
It’s fair to wonder how such a connection exists with so little time spent together on the field, but anyone asked about Wicks regarding the time he missed in the summer mentioned he was always dialed in.
Taking “mental reps” while observing during camp wasn’t just a passive exercise. He was actively processing all he could, bringing those thoughts into meetings, asking questions and taking notes. He also went through plays in writing, on his own, at night after practice.
Wicks said his inquisitive nature comes from his mom, who always told him there’s no such thing as a bad question.
“He’s always asking questions,” Jordan Love said. “He’s just a really smart player. He can pick stuff up fast.
“You see him on the field. He’s able to make guys miss. He has good body control on his routes and he’s catching the ball well right now.”
Now his attention turns to the Saints, the team he grew up rooting for as a Louisiana native. Across the line of scrimmage, he’ll also see New Orleans All-Pro safety Tyrann Mathieu, whom he watched play in college at LSU.
“Yeah, I was a big-time Saints fan, but it’s ‘Go Pack Go’ now,” Wicks said, adding that during the game, Mathieu just becomes another “faceless opponent.”
His involvement, and production, from Week 1 to Week 2 increased exponentially, so whenever Watson returns – he remains questionable on the injury report – it’s reasonable to believe Wicks will remain a factor in this offense. He’s thrilled he scored his first touchdown, admitting it relieves some rookie nerves, and he pledges to be ready for whatever’s next.
“It would have been better if we had a better outcome,” he said of his impact in Atlanta. “So I really wasn’t even worried about the touchdown, really. Just focused on getting back this week and doing that (again), and also coming out with a win so it’ll feel better.”
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