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5 things learned at Packers rookie minicamp

Energy and excitement were high inside the Don Hutson Center

Day 2 - rookie minicamp
Day 2 - rookie minicamp

GREEN BAY – Head Coach Matt LaFleur spoke to the media on Saturday evening following the second day of Packers rookie minicamp.

Here are five things we learned:

1. The energy level of the rookies was right where it needed to be.

The Packers' 13-player draft class, along with the other 35 minicamp participants, made a positive first impression on the coaching staff during what LaFleur called two "very productive" practices inside the Hutson Center.

It marked the debut of top picks Lukas Van Ness, Jayden Reed, Luke Musgrave and Tucker Kraft in green-and-gold, while 11 undrafted free agents, 14 tryout players, nine returning players and one international player also looked to shine.

"Our first walkthrough (Friday), it might as well have been a full practice because these guys were flying around," LaFleur said. "I had to tell them after every play to, 'Slow down.' But that speaks to the eagerness — and probably a little bit of the angst — that these guys were going through in terms of just being here and having first exposure. They want to leave a great impression. But it was a very, very productive two days, I think, to kind of lay the foundation for us moving forward."

Rookie minicamp practices tend to be highly procedural, with coaches stressing the importance of players staying on their feet and learning how to practice without pads. Still, LaFleur said the team ran a couple "really beneficial" 11-on-11 periods. It also was an opportunity for the coaches and scouts to get familiar with the play speed of Van Ness and the rest of the incoming draft picks during individual drills.

"We definitely probably saw the best version of all these guys in terms of just the energy, the effort, the urgency," LaFleur said. "A lot of these guys truly do look the part and then you watch them go out there and compete at a high level and give that great effort and energy. So, it's something to be excited about."

2. Rich Bisaccia put his new title to work on Friday.

While LaFleur led Saturday's practice, he passed the clipboard to Bisaccia on Friday while he attended Wisconsin men's basketball coach Greg Gard's sixth-annual "Garding Against Cancer" charity in Madison.

Bisaccia, entering his second season as Green Bay's special teams coordinator, had assistant head coach added to his job title this offseason. Offensive coordinator Adam Stenavich also called plays.

LaFleur said it was his first time meeting Gard, who has led the Badgers to five NCAA Tournament appearances and two Big Ten titles in his eight seasons at the helm. Gard spearheaded the cause after his father, Glen, died of cancer in 2015. Friday night's event raised nearly $900,000 for cancer research.

"I think we have an unbelievable platform in what we do, and to raise money for such a great cause for such a nasty illness, it was a no-brainer," LaFleur said. "And I thought Rich would do a great job holding down the fort, which he did—and so did our other staff members. We've got a great staff, and I feel confident with those guys and I thought missing one rookie practice wasn't going to be the end of the world."

3. Anders Carlson has received Bisaccia's seal of approval.

The Packers' decision to draft Auburn's Anders Carlson was music to the ears of Bisaccia, who worked with his older brother, Daniel, for 3½ years with the Raiders.

Under Bisaccia's watch from 2018-21, the elder Carlson made 108 of 121 of his field-goal attempts (89.3%) and was named to his first All-Pro team in 2021 after converting a league-leading 40 field goals at a 93.0% rate.

Following in his brother's footsteps at Auburn, Anders made 79-of-110 field goals (71.8%) and 173-of-176 extra points (98.3%) over his five collegiate seasons. His final two campaigns were impacted by injury. Carlson tore his anterior cruciate ligament in 2021 and then missed three games with a shoulder injury last season.

Rookie minicamp marked an important turning point for the rookie kicker, though, as Carlson was able to shed the knee brace he wore on his plant leg during his senior season.

"Oh, he was very high on him," said LaFleur of Bisaccia's reaction to the Packers drafting Anders. "Obviously having a history there with his brother and he's known him for a while now. So, definitely made a big impact in Anders' ability to be picked by us. But he's a talented guy and we're excited. He's got a big leg and certainly he's far from a finished product."

4. Rookie Kenneth Odumegwu has a special story…and opportunity.

Earlier this week, the Nigerian linebacker was allocated to the Packers through the NFL's International Pathway Program, which aims to provide elite international athletes with the opportunity to compete at the NFL level, improve their skills, and ultimately work to earn a spot on an NFL roster.

Odumegwu, a native of Anambra State in Nigeria, was converted to football via Educational Basketball. He attended Osi Umenyiora's NFL Africa Touchdown Camp in Accra, Ghana, where he was assigned to defensive line and named defensive Most Valuable Player.

A 6-foot-6, 257-pound linebacker in Green Bay, Odumegwu impressed at the International Combine in England last October and spent the last three months training in Florida before he was paired with the Packers. He'll be with the Packers through training camp, at which time Odumegwu will be eligible for an international player practice squad exemption with his assigned team.

"I'm very excited to be here," Odumegwu said. "Even on my social media page the fans have been very welcoming. Somebody even gave me a nickname on Twitter. OD. They said they couldn't pronounce my last name. I was like, 'OK, that's fine!' So, it's been good and the weather, yeah, I'm from Nigeria, so Nigeria is hot but I've been to Norway, so I've experienced cold. It's very welcoming here."

It's the first time the Packers have been allocated a foreign-born player since the International Pathway Program began in 2017. While LaFleur doesn't recall coaching an International Pathway Program player before, he previously worked with current Dallas defensive line coach Aden Durde in Atlanta.

Durde, a native of Middlesex, England, played an integral development of the NFL Undiscovered program, a predecessor to the current International Player Pathway.

"It is a cool thing in terms of just for the game of football to give somebody an opportunity from another country is just a big time plus," LaFleur said. "Obviously, it's got its advantages from a roster standpoint as well. So we're really excited about it."

Check out photos of the Green Bay Packers' rookie class practicing in the Don Hutson Center on Saturday, May 6, 2023.

5. Jobs were still on the line this weekend, including for one local player.

The 14 tryout players the Packers brought in for rookie minicamp were all competing for one of the three open spots on Green Bay's 90-man offseason roster.

The group included one local player, Jack Plumb, a graduate of Bay Port High School in nearby Suamico, who played in 45 games at the University of Iowa. The 6-foot-8, 293-pound tackle is the grandson of former Packers defensive coordinator Fritz Shurmur.

"Jack did a nice job out there," LaFleur said. "It's fun when you get into some of these settings. … I just kind of sat back and try to watch just how guys broke the huddle, their urgency, getting lined up, the way they communicate with one another and then the effort that they gave, so I'll go back and kind of look at more of the technique stuff and assignment-based things that we always look for as soon as we're done here."

The Packers have had several rookie tryout players crack the 53-man roster over the years, including long snapper Jack Coco last spring.

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