GREEN BAY – Lambeau Field was buzzing on Friday with the Packers hosting 58 rookies and first-year players for their annual rookie orientation.
Here are five things we learned after the team conducted the first on-field work with its 10 draft picks and 15 college free agents who began their NFL careers this weekend.
A history lesson
Each year, the Packers welcome their incoming rookie class to Lambeau Field with a video presentation about the team’s origins and its 13 world titles.
One of the more unique aspects of the package comes near the end when the Packers project the rookies’ faces onto the screen, reminding each of them of the opportunity they’ve been given to add to the franchise’s rich history.
“That’s a neat moment and a threshold where we’re making it loud and clear the opportunity these guys have,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. “And we’re talking about all of them, too. We’re talking about the tryout players. We’re talking about the rookie free agents. The numbers speak for themselves.”
McCarthy spoke to a roomful of players Thursday night, recounting to the undrafted and tryout players the story of all the established veterans who started from the same humble beginnings to make it in the NFL, including those who helped propel the Packers to a Super Bowl title in 2010.
The message hit home with everyone in the room, drafted and undrafted rookies alike.
“It opens your eyes a little bit and lets you know you’re not dreaming anymore,” said receiver DeAngelo Yancey, a fifth-round pick out of Purdue. “You’re here. You’re living the dream. You have to make the most of your opportunity.”
Kevin King was so excited about his first day in a Packers’ uniform the rookie cornerback completely forgot about his 22nd birthday on Friday.
Well, at least until someone mentioned it to him.
“I was running around the field and one of the guys said, ‘Hey Kevin, happy birthday,’” King said. “And I’m like, ‘Oh yeah, thank you.’
“I’m so locked in on this, it doesn’t even feel like a birthday. I’m definitely blessed to reach 22. It’s growing up outside of being a grown-up. Twenty-one is serious, but 22 is cool. It’s a good feeling.”
King, the 33rd overall pick in this year’s draft, said he also hasn’t had a chance to tour the inside of Lambeau Field yet, though he hopes to see the field at some point this weekend.
Getting a first look
McCarthy wasn’t ready to make any bold proclamations about any of the rookies, but that doesn’t mean he, his coaches and the personnel department aren’t taking preliminary notes.
The Packers pay attention to everything during rookie orientation, from how players conduct themselves in meetings to their interactions with teammates in the team cafeteria.
It’s all part of getting to know personalities, and once they are on the field, beginning to understand what type of player you’re dealing with.
“(We’re) trying to get a feel for the ceiling, because as a coach you want to see how far you can take and develop a player,” McCarthy said. “Really the biggest thing for myself and the coaching staff is getting them acclimated to how we practice because the big jump is when we step on the field in two weeks with the rest of the football team. You want to make that transition as smooth as possible.”
McCarthy acknowledged the first practice for incoming rookies isn’t always the smoothest, but he was pleased with the overall energy and tempo.
It also was the first time General Manager Ted Thompson and his scouting department were able to see their 10-person draft class – highlighted by second-round picks King and Josh Jones – on the field in a Packers’ uniform.
“These two practices and these two days, it’s a joy,” McCarthy said. “The energy these guys bring to the table is remarkable. It’s something I’ve always appreciated.”
The Packers’ backfield will have a much different look in 2017 after the addition of three rookie running backs – Jamaal Williams, Aaron Jones and Devante Mays – through the draft. A fourth was added as an undrafted free agent, Kalif Phillips from Charlotte.
Due to mounting injuries at the position, Packers running backs coach Ben Sirmans coached more than a dozen different running backs during his first year in Green Bay.
He began his work with his four newest pupils Friday, six days after the Packers drafted three running backs for the first time since 1974.
“It’s a unique challenge,” McCarthy said. “Inexperience is very high. Ty Montgomery is your veteran halfback and he made a transition last year. You look at (Aaron) Ripkowski and the importance he’s going to play in that room. To have the competition between three, four players who all arrive in the same year – that’s unique and that’s something that will stick with those guys this year. That’s something that’s motivation within the room that’s not normal. I think that will be a benefit.”
The Packers started to roll out some of the subtle changes in drills during the first day of rookie orientation, something McCarthy forecasted earlier in the offseason.
McCarthy said the team incorporated two new drills Friday, which the Packers will continue to utilize when organized team activities begin in two weeks.
“Each and every year is different,” McCarthy said. “We’ll do things a little differently this year than how we did it last year, so everybody will have to adjust to that, but that’s why this whole offseason program is so important because this is really where you start to develop your football team. These guys will keep working and catch up at some point.”
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