GREEN BAY — In the moment, Aaron Rodgers didn’t even notice. It wasn’t until days later, while re-watching his touchdown pass to Randall Cobb on film, that the Green Bay Packers quarterback noticed what has since become Yosh Nijman’s signature move.
“The world’s biggest Robot,” wide receiver Davante Adams called it with a laugh.
Yes, when Rodgers scrambled toward the goal line and threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to Cobb during the third quarter of the Packers’ Oct. 3 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers at Lambeau Field, the ensuing celebration included all the things you’d expect — hugs, head butts, helmet taps, high-fives. With one, unexpected addition.
“And out of nowhere, Yosh comes into the frame and does ‘The Robot,’” Rodgers recounted this week, as Nijman prepared to start at left tackle against the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday at Lambeau Field. “We’d never seen this personality from Yosh at all. I mean, Yosh is a great kid. Very quiet though. Kind of goes about his business, doesn’t say a whole lot, lets the other guys in the room be the funny guys.
“But him doing ‘The Robot,’ I think everybody was like, ‘Oh my gosh, Yosh! That was amazing. We need to see more of that.’”
Reminded of his moves after practice on Thursday — and told how Rodgers and Adams raved about him — Nijman said he had forgotten that he’d even done “The Robot” until he saw the film himself.
“I mean, since I was a kid, I was a big dancer. But sometimes, like during touchdowns or whatever, I usually just black out and start dancing,” Nijman said. “For me when I saw, I was like, ‘Oh, snap, I forgot I did that.’ But for them, it was like, ‘Yeah! Yeah!’ So, OK, let’s roll with that.”
With five-time All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari still not cleared to make his 2021 debut after suffering a setback in his comeback from the torn ACL he suffered in a Dec. 31 practice last season, and with Pro Bowl left guard-turned-left tackle Elgton Jenkins having suffered a season-ending torn ACL in his left knee last week at Minnesota, the Packers will need the 6-foot-7, 314-pound Nijman to be more than just a guy delivering entertaining touchdown celebrations.
Against one of the more fearsome pass rushes in the NFL, the Packers will need him to play even better than he did during a three-game stint earlier in the season when Jenkins was sidelined by an ankle injury. For while his dance moves are thoroughly enjoyed by all — he did “The Robot” again against the Vikings after the second of Adams’ two touchdown catches in that game — the Rams rush of Leonard Floyd (7.5 sacks), Aaron Donald (six sacks) and Von Miller (looking for his first sack as a Ram following a Nov. 1 trade from Denver) could make it a very long day for Rodgers, who’s already playing through a painful fractured pinkie toe.
“We love him, and it’s great that you’ve got a guy like that who can step up,” Adams said. “You know, he didn’t have much experience before this year. So to step up and do the things that he did, we’re definitely proud of him.”
Indeed, after spending most of his first NFL season on the practice squad (he was on the 53-man roster for three games but didn’t play before a season-ending elbow injury) and last year on the roster all season (but playing only 14 offensive snaps), Nijman was thrown into the starting lineup at San Francisco on Sept. 26, when the team could have moved veteran right tackle Billy Turner to the left side and brought veteran Dennis Kelly, a 17-game starter for Tennessee last season, off the bench.
Instead, offensive line coach Adam Stenavich went with Nijman, a former undrafted free agent from Virginia Tech, in a decision that initially surprised Rodgers. But, Nijman had played extensively in the preseason, which gave Stenavich the confidence to play him after Jenkins’ ankle injury instead of going with what seemed like an obviously safer option of playing two veterans.
"He’s been improving ever since he got here, and you see the steady strides in improvement,” said veteran outside linebacker Preston Smith, who went against Nijman frequently in camp. “The coaches trust him. For them to have that trust in you, it means a lot and speaks a lot for itself.”
Added head coach Matt LaFleur: “Luckily, Yosh has been playing some good ball for us. (He) has all the traits you look for in an offensive lineman — he’s big, he’s athletic, he can bend, he’s strong, powerful, everything. It’s just about putting it all together on a consistent basis.”
Nijman said playing in those three games, against the 49ers, Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals before Jenkins’ return to action, gave him not only valuable experience but confidence after scarcely playing the previous two seasons.
“It definitely does help to have three games. The game speed has slowed down for me,” Nijman said Thursday. “For me, I know it’s just every game get better at something, just look at the film from the first game, the second and third and just looking at things I did well and things I did better on and just working on those things.”
It’s that attitude that has made Nijman a beloved figure to Rodgers and Adams (“We’re definitely proud of him,” Adams said) as well as the rest of the team. So Nijman’s response was no surprise when he was asked Thursday about the way the two team leaders and the rest of the locker room have embraced him and are confident that he’ll be able to do the job with Jenkins out and Bakhtiari’s return murky.
“Since today’s Thanksgiving, it’s a day of gratitude, and I know every day I come in this building, I have a lot of gratitude,” Nijman said. “The Packers gave me an opportunity to come here as an undrafted free agent, and a lot of the guys on this team and around this building definitely have helped me become the player I am now. (They) are continuously pushing me to become a better player.
“So, for everybody in the locker room and the coaches and everything, I have a lot of gratitude for them and am very thankful for them.”
Rodgers: Toe broken
Rodgers said his foot injury is a fracture to his pinky toe and added that he doesn’t expect the situation to cause him to miss any games.
Rodgers has been playing with the toe injury each of the past two games after missing a 13-7 loss at Kansas City because of a positive COVID-19 test. The reigning MVP said the injury occurred while working out at home during his quarantine.
“I’m going to deal with the pain,” he said.