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Packers’ rookies get to work as post-draft rookie camp kicks off

May 3, 2019

GREEN BAY — Ron Wolf used to say that you could never rule a player “in” during the old post-draft rookie minicamps, but you certainly could rule a player “out.”

And there was one spring when the Pro Football Hall of Fame general manager stood on the sideline with a cluster of beat writers, watched one of his draft picks drop ball after ball after ball and acknowledged — in his typically economical, slightly coarse word choice — that he’d missed on said player.

When the Green Bay Packers convene this weekend for their annual post-draft rookie orientation camp — a term the Packers adopted under longtime head coach Mike McCarthy and are keeping under his successor, Matt LaFleur — GM Brian Gutekunst and his scouting staff will watch the team’s eight draft picks and undrafted free agent signees and hope they don’t have one of those Wolf-type moments.

That was a rare occurrence, of course, and it’s hard to imagine that the Packers’ brass won’t like what they see from first-round picks Rashan Gary and Darnell Savage — or their other picks — in helmets and shorts during today’s and Saturday’s practices. Plus, in recent years, the post-draft rookie orientation camps have become more about giving the team’s latest crop of prospects the lay of the NFL land than the on-field work itself.

Nevertheless, with a new coach, a new culture and a new approach, things figure to at least be a little different for this rookie class than they were for the previous ones.

“It’s our first opportunity to get to learn our guys and them to get to learn us, and kind of lay out the expectations for them,” LaFleur said. “(We’ll) just kind of give them a taste of our scheme, both offensively, defensively and special teams. I’m looking forward to getting them in here.”

Players were slated to arrive Thursday — while a handful of them have been to Green Bay before on pre-draft visits, most were coming to Titletown for the first time — and LaFleur said the group will practice both today and Saturday.

“So we’ll have two solid practices with them,” LaFleur said.

While the veterans will continue Phase II of the offseason program next week, the rookies can’t come back until May 13. They’ll then take part in organized team activity practice with the veterans as they are integrated into the full program.

The rookie camp not only consists of the draft picks and undrafted signees but a host of tryout players who fill out the roster and try to earn a contract. There’s also a handful of players who were on the practice squad or a limited number of games on the 53-man roster who are eligible to take part. Among those will be offensive lineman Cole Madison, a fifth-round pick last year who spent all of last season on the reserve/did not report list while overcoming mental health issues.

A number of players have started as rookie-camp tryout invitees and found their way to the 53-man roster. The most recent success story is offensive lineman Lucas Patrick, who was a tryout player at the 2016 rookie camp, earned a free-agent contract, spent that season on the practice squad and has seen action in 26 regular-season games over the past two years.

“I have to be thankful for what (former GM) Ted Thompson did to make this program a draft-and-develop program,” Patrick said. “I don’t think I would have gotten the shot that I did if I hadn’t shown them something, but then they were the ones who said, ‘Well, let’s bring him back and see what he’s got.’ I’m 100% thankful that they saw even a glimmer of something in me.”

The Packers’ long history with diamonds-in-the-undrafted-free-agent-rough players is also a selling point for the scouting staff when recruiting undrafted players in the aftermath of the draft, Gutekunst said.

“We’ve had such significant history here with undrafted free agents, that’s kind of what we sell,” Gutekunst said. “One of the unique things about our franchise because we don’t have an owner, if an undrafted free agent comes in and he’s beating out a fifth-round pick or a fourth-round pick, there’s no owner that’s going to come in and question that. If that guy wins the job, he wins the job. So I think that’s unique.

“You look at our history, we’ve had five guys on our roster last year who were UDFAs. We think there’s a lot of opportunity here and history shows that. I think at one point we had the most snaps in regular-season games over a 10-year period than any other team in the league. That was very, very important to Ted — and that’s very important to us as well.”

Extra points

Savage, the No. 21 overall pick, signed a four-year contract with the usual fifth-year team option, although terms weren’t immediately available. … Training camp will open on July 25 and the annual shareholders meeting is the day before. The actual practice schedule is still being finalized. … Team president/CEO Mark Murphy said that the team’s preseason game against Oakland will likely be played in Winnipeg.