5 things learned about the Packers heading into Week 1

GM Brian Gutekunst, Head Coach Matt LaFleur spoke to the media following roster decisions

Head Coach Matt LaFleur and General Manager Brian Gutekunst

GREEN BAY – Packers General Manager Brian Gutekunst and Head Coach Matt LaFleur both addressed the media on Wednesday, one day after the Packers made the majority of their roster decisions.

Here are five things we learned:

1. The personnel department was monitoring the Rams' punter situation involving Corey Bojorquez.

The trade for Bojorquez is not yet official and he had not arrived in Green Bay as of Wednesday's practice, but Gutekunst believes the Packers' new punter and replacement for JK Scott is a player on the rise.

Undrafted in 2018, Bojorquez showed steady improvement in Buffalo, going from averages of 41.9 gross yards and 38.2 net in 2019 to 50.8 and 44.0, respectively, in 2020. His cold-weather experience is also a plus, so when he was in training camp this summer out in L.A. competing with All-Pro Johnny Hekker, the Packers were watching.

"We had on eye on that as that battle went through," Gutekunst said. "We thought this was a chance for us to get better."

With the Packers sitting so low in the waiver-claim order as the NFC runner-up from last year, Gutekunst offered a late-round draft pick swap to the Rams for Bojorquez rather than wait for his release and risk him getting claimed by another team.

He was also the holder on placekicks for the Bills and he'll be expected to handle that duty for veteran kicker Mason Crosby, though there's not much time to refine the new operation with long snapper Hunter Bradley.

"They've got to get on it and get working here pretty quickly," Gutekunst said.

2. The Packers aren't taking any chances with injuries to two of their stars.

That goes for the All-Pros currently on the mend, David Bakhtiari at left tackle and Za'Darius Smith at edge rusher.

While Gutekunst is comfortable with third-year lineman Elgton Jenkins stepping into Bakhtiari's place on the blind side, that didn't influence the decision to put Bakhtiari on PUP at the beginning of the season, which sidelines him for at least the first six weeks as he continues to rehab from last January's ACL surgery.

"This is more about David's health and where he's at," Gutekunst said. "Rushing him out there as not going to be something I was comfortable doing."

The team is taking the same approach with Smith and his back injury, which prevented the defense's top pass rusher from participating in all but a couple days of training camp. There's been no timetable set on Smith's return, but he is on the active roster right now and trying to get back as soon as possible.

"This is going to be a long season and we feel really good about our football team, so we're going to make sure," Gutekunst said. "We're not going to rush anybody out there and cost something down the line for something right now."

3. There's plenty of confidence in the remade offensive line, but the young players will have to prove themselves.

LaFleur said the coaching staff was planning all along not to have Bakhtiari for the start of the season, figuring if he came back early it would be "a bonus."

It appears the Packers are going to line up with two rookie draft picks as starters in Week 1 for the first time in 15 years. Center Josh Myers and right guard Royce Newman won their jobs in what Gutekunst called the deepest competition he can recall up front, but the next step for them will be even more challenging.

"We feel good about it, but there's still a lot of work to be done," LaFleur said. "We've got some young players that are playing for us, and there's just a lot of learning that still needs to happen, and we need to see these guys on a daily basis really attack it the right way, which I think they will.

"Certainly there may be some growing pains in there. That's just the way it is; that's the nature of it."

4. Malik Taylor is expected to help on special teams, but he won a roster spot first and foremost as a receiver.

Taylor, undrafted out of Ferris State in 2019, made the team last year and played in all but one game, but his bid for a roster spot this year was even more impressive. He led the NFL in preseason receiving yards (185) and tied for second in receptions (14).

Barring injury, the top five receivers on the team were basically set at the start of camp with Davante Adams, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Allen Lazard, Randall Cobb and rookie Amari Rodgers. There was no guarantee there'd be a sixth receiver kept, and the odds of a seventh making it were even slimmer.

"From the first day of practices to joint practices to preseason games, he just earned it the whole way," Gutekunst said. "I think he's gotten continuously better from last year, took a good step. That's a tough group to crack. There wasn't a lot of open spots in that group."

Three of the players Taylor beat out for that sixth spot – Equanimeous St. Brown, Juwann Winfree and Chris Blair – were re-signed to the practice squad.

5. The change of venue for Week 1 has the Packers focused more on the heat now than the noise.

With the game against the Saints now in Jacksonville, the Packers are potentially in for one of the hottest games in franchise history. But the noise of the Superdome in New Orleans is no longer a major concern.

"There are some positives that it probably won't be quite as loud, but the negative is that it's hard to simulate that kind of heat," LaFleur said. "So our guys are going to have to do a great job of hydrating and taking care of their bodies all week."

Gutekunst confirmed the Packers, who could've hosted if asked, didn't really have any input in the league's decision.

"With this being a New Orleans home game, it wasn't a lot of say from our view," he said. "Love to have it here, though. Would've been nice."

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