On Tuesday, the Packers’ 79-man roster must be cut to the league-maximum 75. By Saturday, another 22 players will be cast aside.
A week ago, it was practically a certainty that Jason Chery would be turning in his playbook at some point this week.
Then, opportunity knocked, the door opened and Chery sprinted 75 yards to a Lambeau Leap. And now, he’s getting a chance to keep right on running — all the way to a fairy-tale spot on the roster.
On third down during Thursday’s game against Indianapolis, the No. 2 punt return unit gathered on the sideline. According to Chery, receiver Chastin West, who was supposed to be the returner, was winded, so Chery turned to special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum and then his assistant, former NFL ace returner Chad Morton, literally begging for an opportunity.
“Give me a chance, put me back there,” Chery recalled saying on Monday.
When the defense forced a punt, the coaches gave Chery his chance. What was there to lose, with a 52-24 lead?
“I was on the sideline, just waiting, stretching, waiting for a chance,” Chery continued. “By the time I finally went out there, everybody was on me. The whole team was rooting for me, saying, ‘Make sure you catch the ball. Be calm.’ I was like, ‘Man, it’s like college all over.’ The more they were telling me, the more you get nervous. I’m back there, I’m already nervous, my adrenaline is pumping, my eyes are red because I was emotional, like, ‘Finally, my time!’ And then I said, ‘OK, catch the ball.’ I caught the ball, so what am I going to do? So, I just caught the ball and made one move – because coach said make one move and just hit it, so I did exactly what they told me to do, and I let my abilities work for themselves. That one opportunity realy sparked things, opened their eyes. Now they’re like, ‘Wow!’ They’re saying ‘Wow,’ and I’m saying, ‘See? See.’ I was here all along. I was hiding.”
Chery entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent out of Louisiana-Lafayette in 2009 and had stints on the practice squads in Pittsburgh and Carolina. When Jeff Moturi went down early in training camp, the Packers worked out Chery, who posted 40-yard times between 4.29 and 4.32 seconds at his workout, coach Mike McCarthy said on Monday.
Chery was mostly invisible during his first three weeks in camp, showing explosive speed but suspect hands as a receiver. He was listed last on the return depth chart for the Colts game. Then came his touchdown and a golden opportunity on Thursday at Kansas City. With Will Blackmon’s surgically repaired knee giving him troubles, McCarthy said Chery will handle all the kick-returning opportunities in the preseason finale.
“It was crazy, being last and to being No. 1 now,” Chery said. “Right now, there’s a lot of people looking at me to push me forward. But if I don’t do good, there’s another guy possibly ready to step up. My mind-set is, I’m up, and if you’re behind me, you’re not going to take the job.”
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.