One of the thrills for any rookie with the Green Bay Packers comes when he walks down the Lambeau Field tunnel and out onto the field for the first time.
An anomaly of the lockout, which kept the rookies away until just a few days before training camp, is that for many of them their first time setting foot on the Lambeau grass will come in front of 50,000 fans at Saturday’s “Family Night” practice.
“That’s something you dream about as a kid, and now I have the opportunity to do it,” said receiver Randall Cobb, a second-round pick. “It’s going to be exciting. I can’t wait.”
The rookies haven’t even been around the team facility a full two weeks, and they’ve had so much studying to do just to get ready for practice each night that they haven’t given much thought to getting a glimpse of where they hope to play for many years to come.
“It will actually be my first time seeing Lambeau,” said cornerback Davon House, a fourth-round pick. “I haven’t even seen the field yet since I’ve been here, because I’ve been so busy with meetings, and going over the playbook. It’s going to be fun.”
Tight end D.J. Williams (pictured), a fifth-rounder, admitted to sneaking a peek at Lambeau from the mouth of the tunnel, but he resisted the urge to take a Twitter picture or stray too far for fear of “getting in trouble.”
“I stepped on it for the first time, just my toe,” he said. “It will be fun actually playing out there. All that history, a big-time place to play NFL football.”
The night won’t feature a scrimmage with live tackling as it normally does, but it will have the usual offense vs. defense periods and other game situations.
Head Coach Mike McCarthy said he’ll have offensive coordinator Joe Philbin call the plays so McCarthy, as usual, can focus on the overall operation of the sidelines and the huddle and evaluate the young players bidding for roster spots.
“Without the opportunity in the spring, it’s important you get an up-close look at your new players in live action,” McCarthy said. “You always have the ability to study the film, there’s no doubt, but there’s definitely things you can pick up and see on the field.”
The Packers have now had four padded practices heading into “Family Night.” Here are some other observations from Friday night’s workout:
Second-year running back James Starks continues to stand out. During a team run period, he broke through the line twice for long gains. As a rookie last year, Starks missed all of training camp with a hamstring injury but then burst onto the scene for the Packers’ postseason run.
“I think he’s as explosive as he was in the playoffs,” McCarthy said. “You saw James Starks at 100 percent during our playoff run, and he is a little bigger. He’s put on probably another five, six pounds. I think he looks more powerful than last year, particularly when he puts his foot down and hits that second level. I think he’s had a very good camp.”
Kicker Mason Crosby had his first night of live kicking in camp and, with the kickoff line moved up to the 35, he was easily booming his kickoffs well into the end zone.
His field goals didn’t go so well, though. There was not an official underneath the goal posts giving a signal, but it appeared Crosby made just four of eight tries, missing four in a row at one point, all from 45-plus.
“That’s a little bit of a rough day from a statistic standpoint, but that’s why we practice,” McCarthy said. “That was Mason’s first live opportunity, so I’m not really concerned about it.”
A few more players were added to the injury list. House dropped out of practice with a hamstring problem, receiver Greg Jennings was out with a hip flexor and cornerback Tramon Williams sat out with hip tightness that flared up Thursday night. Right tackle Bryan Bulaga also was battling knee tendinitis, McCarthy said.
Jarrett Bush took most of Williams’ snaps with the first-team nickel defense at corner, and Marshall Newhouse got in some work at right tackle in addition to his left tackle reps.
A couple of lighthearted moments: Quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ first pass of the night was completed to himself. Trying to dump off a screen pass, Rodgers’ toss was deflected by linebacker Clay Matthews right back to Rodgers, who snagged the ball and took off running, much to the delight of the packed bleachers at Ray Nitschke Field.
Later in practice, after Rodgers hit Donald Driver on a quick slant for a big gain, Driver ran past General Manager Ted Thompson deep downfield and flipped him the ball. Driver then turned around and signaled for Thompson to toss him one, and the GM was on target.
Offensive lineman T.J. Lang returned to practice on Friday after missing Thursday’s workout for the birth of his son. On Thursday morning, Lang flew to Detroit, where his girlfriend gave birth to a boy, John Joseph Lang, in the evening.
“He’s a pretty big boy,” Lang said of the 8-pound, 10-ounce infant. “Looks like he’s going to be a football player.”
Lang’s offensive linemates, led by Josh Sitton, jokingly stuffed Lang’s locker with pink balloons Friday morning for Lang’s return. Who knows what they would have done had the baby actually been a girl.
As for the name, Lang said the first and middle names represent one grandfather on each side. John is also what the “J” stands for in T.J., so another similar nickname is likely forthcoming.
“People are already calling him ‘J.J.’, so I wouldn’t be surprised if it sticks,” Lang said.