Their more indelible mark, at least initially, will be made during the upcoming preseason games. But for now, they’re going all-out in practice every day, sometimes twice a day, and doing whatever it takes to get noticed.
After Tuesday’s morning practice, Packers.com asked the team’s offensive, defensive and special teams coordinators to talk about a few young guys they feel have started to stand out. Here’s a quick look at those players:
RB Quinn Porter
The non-drafted 205-pound rookie put himself on the map last week when he turned the corner for an 80-yard touchdown run when the offense was trying to run out the clock against the defense. Then, offensive coordinator Joe Philbin noted another big play he made Monday, when he didn’t back down in a blitz pick-up situation, one of the hardest skills for a rookie NFL back to learn.
“I just love his toughness,” Philbin said. “He has no fear. He steps up there, gets in front of people, sticks his nose in there. He’s got some football in him. Just like the way he plays the game.
“He’s not perfect yet, but I love the way he steps up in blitz protection. Absolutely love it.”
With sixth-round draft pick James Starks still sidelined by a hamstring injury, Porter – whose collegiate career began inauspiciously as a stuntman on the Stillman College cheerleading team – is making a legitimate bid for the No. 3 running back spot behind Ryan Grant and Brandon Jackson.
He’s also showing some versatility on special teams too, which only boosts his chances of making the team. He’s getting some reps as a return man, and in coverage, where his “explosive, top-end speed,” as special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum describes it, definitely helps him.
“He can play in the box on the punt team, he can play gunner,” Slocum said. “Same thing on punt return. He can return the ball, he can play corner, on the edge in the box. He can do a bunch of things.”
CB Sam Shields
Speaking of speed, Shields’ gifts in that realm are impossible not to notice. The converted wide receiver is still learning the corner position, having played it just one year at Miami (Fla.), but he showed off his instincts and athletic ability with an interception and weaving, length-of-the-field TD return in last Saturday’s scrimmage.
“He’s an encouraging young man,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “He just hasn’t played much at the position, but you see him every day where he’ll make a play where you can see his ability show up. He has what we can’t give him. We just have to keep trying to bring him along where the big picture gets a little clearer with him.
“One thing about him is he’s taking a very serious approach. In meetings he’s all business. You can tell that he’s working hard to try to make this football team.”
Shields’ speed also could be an asset in the return game, though his abilities there looked shaky in the spring when he struggled to field punts and kickoffs cleanly and consistently. But other than one tough morning last week, Shields has shown better hands since the pads have gone on in camp.
“He’s definitely improved catching the ball,” Slocum said. “He’s doing a much better job getting his feet underneath himself when he catches punts. He does well catching kickoffs, and I’m looking forward to seeing him progress.”
WR Charles Dillon
In the battle for the No. 5 wide receiver spot, Dillon has been a steady performer by making a play here or there in almost every practice.
Last Monday, on the third day of camp, he caught back-to-back passes from Matt Flynn in the 2-minute drill, the second one an impressive diving grab over the middle for a 20-yard gain. The next day, he got behind the defense on a missed assignment and hauled in a long pass from Aaron Rodgers. Then last Saturday in the scrimmage, Flynn found him again in the 2-minute drill for a 30-yard gain down the sideline.
“He’s come a long way and made a lot of nice progress in terms of some of these guys that aren’t draft picks,” Philbin said. “He’s playing with a lot of effort on the field, and that gets noticed.
“I like what he’s doing. We like his competitiveness. He hustles, plays hard. He’s got some ability.”
Last year Brett Swain won the fifth receiver spot in camp by showing his ability to contribute on special teams, and as Dillon and the other young receivers try to unseat Swain, work on the coverage units will be critical.
“Once we play these preseason games, that’s when guys start to show up, because of the toughness aspect and actually competing,” Slocum said.
DE Mike Neal
The biggest name in this bunch, the 6-foot-3, 294-pound Neal was a second-round draft pick from Purdue. And unlike for the previous three mentioned, his roster spot is rather secure.
But he’s learning the sometimes thankless position of defensive end in Capers’ 3-4 scheme, a tough transition from playing on a four-man defensive line in college because there are such different responsibilities in the base, nickel and dime packages. It’s a lot to have on his plate, along with the expectations that come with being a high draft selection.
“It’s just like learning Biology 203 at Purdue University,” Neal said. “It’s real difficult, because you get stuck in one position and there’s so much to try to learn, and then, ‘Here you need to know this position.’ So now you’re trying to remember your old stuff, but then if you get thrown in with a different person, like if I’m in there with Cullen (Jenkins), I know I’ve got to play a different technique.”
Neal is soaking it all up as best he can, though, knowing he’s being counted on to make a significant contribution as a rookie. Neal has taken most of his snaps with the No. 2 defense but has been worked in with the 1’s regularly as well in all the different packages.
“I think he’s doing well,” Capers said. “He’s a really strong guy, so when he gets his hands on them, you can tell.”
Capers added that Neal’s strength stood out on a short-yardage play in last Saturday’s scrimmage when he got a sizable push off the snap and contributed to wrecking the play.
“Short-yardage and goal-line you’re trying to knock them back, so he created a new line of scrimmage for us,” Capers said. “Those are the kind of guys you need in those situations to where now the linebackers have got good angles to work off of.
“Like any rookie, he’s learning, but I think he’s got the potential because of the strength, and he can move fairly well for a guy his size.”
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