GREEN BAY – The Packers held a non-padded practice Sunday that was closed to the public but open to the media, their first workout since the preseason opener Friday night in Cincinnati.
Here are five things we learned:
1. International Pathway Program player Kenneth Odumegwu was honored by the team for his debut.
Odumegwu, the rookie outside linebacker from Nigeria who is starting his football career literally from scratch, had never played in an actual football game until Friday night against the Bengals. The Packers don't typically hand out game balls after preseason games, but to honor this special occasion, Head Coach Matt LaFleur gave Odumegwu one in the locker room immediately afterward.
"It was a surreal moment for me," Odumegwu said after Sunday's practice. "I couldn't speak. I couldn't even say thank you to coach. I just got the ball and got it in my bag.
"That ball is gonna be with me for the rest of my life."
His teammates, who got excited on the sideline when he was told, "56, you're going in," cheered and celebrated with him after the game. Odumegwu said his dad and stepmom were able to watch the game live but his mom, back in Nigeria, could only catch some clips on YouTube.
Odumegwu believed he played eight snaps on defense (the NFL's official statistics had him for a dozen, plus two snaps on special teams), and he's being very critical of himself in reviewing the film. He admitted to feeling "overwhelmed" and anxious, and felt all he could do was react and play very slowly.
He calls himself a "probational football player" who still has so much to learn, and he's working toward recognizing formations so he has a better idea what type of play is coming.
"My goal for this season is to develop as much as possible, to be a better football player overall, so next season people will ask me, 'What college did you go to?'" he said.
As an IPP player, Odumegwu has a roster exemption during training camp, and for the practice squad during the regular season. So he's not necessarily fighting for a job in the same way so many of his fellow young teammates are, but he doesn't really look at it that way.
"The way the anxiety goes for them, it still goes for me too," he said. "I can't just be relaxed, like, 'Oh, OK.' If you relax, you won't get better. I put myself in their shoes. Yeah, it could be me too, tomorrow, so I have to put in the work."
He's earned a measure of respect and admiration in that regard.
"The guys have really rallied around him and supported him," LaFleur said. "He is top shelf in terms of character.
"There's a lot more to learn but he's been a good addition to our team."
2. The wide receiving corps just might have a new "goon."
That role was filled the last few years by Allen Lazard, but in his preseason debut, undrafted rookie Malik Heath got quite the reaction from his teammates when he blocked Bengals cornerback Marvell Tell III all the way out of bounds on a read-option running play by QB Sean Clifford.
The run gained 13 yards, and on top of it Tell was flagged for a personal foul when he took out his frustration on Heath after the play.
"They're looking for a goon, so I'm going to try to fill that role," said Heath, the Ole Miss product who also had three catches for 36 yards. "I'm going to try to do anything I can to make the team."
Heath's extra blocking effort was emblematic of what LaFleur saw on film from the receivers in general, crediting Bo Melton for a good block on Emanuel Wilson's first TD run, and Dontayvion Wicks for his block on Tyler Goodson's plunge across the goal line.
LaFleur called it the "play style that we're looking for."
"Blocking's not always the sexy thing to do … but that's an important part of our offense," he said. "All in all the receivers did a really nice job blocking."
The Green Bay Packers held training camp practice at Ray Nitschke Field on Sunday, Aug. 13, 2023.
3. Offensive tackle Rasheed Walker appears to be moving up the depth chart.
Walker, a seventh-round pick last year from Penn State, was playing left tackle with the No. 1 offensive line while David Bakhtiari sat out. That substitution spot had been Yosh Nijman's until Sunday. Nijman was playing right tackle on the second unit for most of practice.
The second-year pro wasn't reading too much into it, but it's clear he's come a long way since his rookie training camp, when he was on the receiving end of offensive line coach Luke Butkus' booming voice many a time.
"It's always love," Walker said. "I try to always just take the message, not the tone. I've always been coached pretty hard."
Walker (6-6, 324) said he feels more confident this year due to possessing a better knowledge of the playbook and being in better shape. All last year through the pre-draft process, he was rehabbing from a surgery, and he subsequently missed OTAs as a rookie.
"I had a chance to get in shape, get everything together this past offseason," he said. "I really paid attention to my diet. Just tried to eat cleaner, not so late at night, just stay disciplined with my diet. That helped a lot."
4. The offense and defense split the two-minute drills.
The first-team offense won its try, as QB Jordan Love directed a 70-yard touchdown drive, which started with 1:45 on the clock and two timeouts. Love connected with five different pass-catchers on the drive, finishing it with a slick throw on a free play – the defense had jumped offside – on a seam route to rookie WR Jayden Reed, who made a sliding 13-yard TD catch.
The defense won handily with the second units on the field, though, not allowing a first down and ending the possession with back-to-back sacks. The third-down sack was whistled just before QB Sean Clifford rifled a ball deep downfield, right on target to rookie TE Tucker Kraft for what would've been a huge gain. Undrafted rookie Brenton Cox Jr., who deflected a pass Friday night in Cincinnati that safety Dallin Leavitt turned into an interception, got the sack on fourth down.
5. For all the injuries from the game, at least a couple guys are getting healthier.
Rookie WR Grant DuBose participated in 11-on-11 work for the first time Sunday, and TE Josiah Deguara was also back in team drills after missing the Bengals game with a calf injury. Offensive lineman Jake Hanson returned from his elbow injury.
Other participation/depth chart notes from the practice included rookie DL lineman Karl Brooks stepping in on the first unit in the two-minute drill when Kenny Clark took a break, and Zach Tom moving from right tackle to left guard in place of Elgton Jenkins when he rested.
Injured during the game and not practicing Sunday were LB Tariq Carpenter, (back), CB Corey Ballentine (stinger), RB Tyler Goodson (shoulder), T Caleb Jones (ankle), T Luke Tenuta (ankle) and TE Tyler Davis (knee). LaFleur suggested Friday night that Davis is out for the season, and he added Sunday that Tenuta's injury is the more serious of the rest.