GREEN BAY, Wis. — Usually, Randall Cobb was a listener. Coaches conversed, he took mental notes.
One night, the Kentucky wide receiver spoke up.
During another coaches meeting, Cobb noticed something. All of them were right-handed and it was affecting their thinking. He was left-handed. Maybe, Cobb said, he could catch the defense napping. At this specific angle in the "Wildcat," it made sense for him to throw the pass.
"We all kind of looked at him and said, 'You know what? That's right,'" Kentucky wide receivers coach Tee Martin remembers. "It was something small but it made a difference."
That following Saturday, the play resulted in a touchdown. From then on, Cobb's input was always valued.
One week into his pro career, Cobb has dazzled. The speed, the hands, the athleticism. The Green Bay Packers' second-round pick has been highlight-reel worthy from Day 1.
On a loaded receiving corps, Cobb could become an X-and-O nightmare, a wild card on a Super Bowl offense. And the true reason isn't seen on the football field, but rather, inside the classroom.
Cobb is a student of the game. By far, that's his greatest weapon.
"I'm a film junkie," Cobb said. "I like to know the system, everything. I'm trying to learn all the aspects of the offense. Not just the plays."
He became this way out of necessity, survival. Most wide receivers don't need to "love" the boring, minute details of the game, Cobb said. There's no need. They're tall, fast, agile or some combination of the three. Studying the why's and how's behind plays is gravy.
Cobb didn't have a choice. The runt of the class at Kentucky — Cobb is generously listed at 5 feet 10 inches — he found an edge elsewhere.
"I'm an undersized guy so I have to work that much harder at it," Cobb said. "I'm talented but I'm not as physically gifted as a lot of other people. I have to use my strengths in other ways.
"I'm one of the smallest, but I can be one of the smartest."
Kentucky practiced in the mornings, usually finishing around 11 a.m. Players ate and attended class, then most were done for the day. Academically, Cobb was always ahead, so he started to drop into the coaching meetings. Cobb grew up watching Martin lead Tennessee to a title, but he also liked watching his nemesis, the Florida Gators. The purity of the game always interested Cobb — never a particular team or player. Someday, he wants to coach.
So some nights, he stuck his head into coaching meetings for five minutes. Other nights, he was there for two hours. Laughed Martin, "We always knew he was going to poke his head in there."
Cobb wasn't coming to demand the ball, either. Martin said he provided raw, legitimate advice.
"I needed to see what the game plan for the week was going to be, how we were going to attack defenses," Cobb said. "I processed as much information as I could."
He's a quarterback at heart. That was Cobb's first position at Kentucky. On a play-to-play basis, throughout college, Cobb directed traffic before the snap. He told other receivers and backs where to line up. In time, Cobb could go up to the board and diagram protections. He knew who was blocking whom. He knew everybody's assignments.
More and more, Cobb reminded Martin of Hines Ward, another quarterback-turned-receiver whom he played with in Pittsburgh.
As a receiver, it's easy to have tunnel vision. Get open, catch the ball, shut up. Not Cobb. His quarterback background demanded he pull back each layer of the onion on offense. A pre-snap acumen resulted.
He learned where blitzes were coming, where coverages were shading and found a way to always get open. In his final season, Cobb caught 84 passes for 1,017 yards and seven touchdowns.
"The game slowed down to a point where he was seeing everything," Martin said. "He was making plays that only come with maturity and only come with a guy that has mastered that level of the game.
"It got to a point where people knew we were trying to get him the ball, they would know how we were trying to get him the ball and they still couldn't stop it."
Packers coaches are cloaking enthusiasm with reality. It's August. No use revving up the hype machine. Cobb needs more reps with quarterback Aaron Rodgers, coach Mike McCarthy said. The offense is still being installed.
New wide receivers coach Edgar Bennett tapped the brakes while detailing Cobb's potential impact. Still, the talents Bennett sees in Green Bay's current crop of receivers, he noticed instantly in Cobb.
"He's a smart player, an instinctive football player," Bennett said. "He does an outstanding job in the classroom. He's a guy that can jump in there and play multiple spots."
In college, those big and fast receivers devoured all the attention. Georgia's A.J. Green and Alabama's Julio Jones were lauded as the game's best wide receivers. When Martin heard something said about Green and Jones on ESPN, whenever possible he would try to relay it to Cobb.
When last season ended, Cobb did his homework, found out Jones and Green were training in Arizona and joined them.
"They were supposed to be the top guys in our class, which they are, and I wanted to see how they worked," Cobb said. "Just compete with them."
The Cincinnati Bengals took Green fourth overall in the draft. Two picks later, the Atlanta Falcons mortgaged their immediate future on Jones. Cobb went 64th overall.
The lockout prohibited Cobb from getting a playbook and talking to Packers coaches. Further, Green Bay players did not organize workouts of any sort. So Cobb studied his new team on film. Luckily, Kentucky had film of two NFL teams in-house, the Packers and the New England Patriots.
Kentucky has been trying to mimic many concepts of McCarthy's offense. Immediately, Cobb noticed similarities.
"The style of play," Cobb said. "The spacing. The routes and stuff are all similar."
This week, Cobb lined up at all three receiver spots in practice. He caught several passes — some across the middle, some downfield. On one 20-yard comeback route, Rodgers gunned a pass to him as soon he turned.
Many routes and reads are the same. The only glaring difference from Kentucky's offense is how plays are called, Cobb said. He's meeting with Donald Driver, Greg Jennings and other receivers deep into the night after practice to figure that out. Back in the meeting room, Cobb feels at home.
The second-rounder is everything coaches hoped for. The Packers drafted a smart player. Heck, Cobb took a political science test Thursday night after practice. He's 30 credits away from graduating.
Now comes the hard part — playing.
Receiver James Jones was re-signed. Tight end Jermichael Finley is back. Jennings, Driver and Jordy Nelson aren't going anywhere. Right now, Cobb is the team's No. 5 wide receiver at best, although he also is in the mix as a return man.
How will Cobb be used? Martin breaks out into laughter.
"That's not my job. That's not my job," he repeats. "I think Coach McCarthy and those guys are smart enough to figure it out. Those guys could be scary good."