GREEN BAY, Wis. - The Green Bay Packers' worst fears about the severity of receiver Jordy Nelson's knee injury have come true.
The team said Monday only that the star receiver suffered a "significant right knee injury" that would cost him the season. Nelson, one of the top targets for NFL MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers, was injured Sunday in a preseason game at Pittsburgh.
"It's difficult to lose a guy like that in a meaningless game," Rodgers said after the 24-19 loss to the Steelers.
Coach Mike McCarthy was hoping for better results from more tests on Nelson's knee in Green Bay on the team's' off day on Monday. But Rodgers' somber tone after the game foreshadowed the bad news for one of the league's best offenses.
The Packers, one of the top contenders in the NFC, will be without a playmaker who set career highs in receptions (98) and yards receiving (1,519) in 2014. Nelson had 13 touchdown catches last year and 43 over the last four seasons.
He and Randall Cobb formed one of the top receiving duos in the league, each catching more than 90 passes last season. Nelson is also one of the most respected veterans in the locker room for his leadership and work ethic.
While limited during the offseason following minor hip surgery, Nelson could often be found with a play sheet in hand and offering tips to younger receivers.
"Jordy Nelson is a key member of our football program both on the field and of the field, probably more so off the field," McCarthy said in Pittsburgh. "He's a great player ... tremendous in the locker room, tremendous family man."
The Packers have depth at receiver, but lack experience after Cobb.
Promising second-year player Davante Adams, who has had a good offseason and training camp, moves up as the No. 2 receiver behind Cobb. Rookie Ty Montgomery, who has impressed so far in practice, moves up to third receiver.
Myles White, who played seven games with the Packers in 2013, has also had a good camp. The 6-foot-3 Jeff Janis, a second-year player, has size but has been inconsistent. Jared Abbrederis has been sidelined by a concussion.
"Whether (Nelson is) here or not, guys have to step up. And I'm one of those guys who has to be ready for anything. An opportunity is always going to be there, no matter what else is going on," Rodgers said.
But no one has the kind of rapport that Nelson, entering his eight season, has cultivated with Rodgers. He has developed a knack for making seemingly impossible catches along the sideline and catching deep balls from Rodgers.
It's that skill that made Nelson and Cobb such a formidable duo, with Cobb often able to get open over the middle for big third-down plays.
The emergence of second-year tight end Richard Rodgers, who has also stood out in camp, could help ease the loss of Nelson. The Packers also have one of the best offensive lines in the league and punishing running back Eddie Lacy.