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5 things learned at Packers training camp – Aug. 29

Roster cuts are a week away, the practice schedule will soon shift, and the running game is finding holes

General Manager Brian Gutekunst and Head Coach Matt LaFleur
General Manager Brian Gutekunst and Head Coach Matt LaFleur

GREEN BAY – The Packers split Saturday's practice between full pads and jog-through speed at Ray Nitschke Field.

Here are five things learned from the day.

1. With the roster reduction a week away, the only certainty is there will be unavoidable uncertainty regarding some decisions.

It's going to be that way for every team, with no preseason games to evaluate young players, and only practices to go on.

Head Coach Matt LaFleur suggested in his mind there's "more or less a few roster spots down at the bottom" left to be decided, so the greater intrigue this year could be with the expanded 16-man practice squad, which has several veteran exemptions.

General Manager Brian Gutekunst said some of the toughest decisions could end up being between veteran players who have been there, done that in the NFL and therefore provide a GM some "comfort," versus young prospects with upside who are attractive but possess "less proof" due to this year's unique circumstances.

"A lot can happen out on that practice field, but guys learn in games, and sometimes they've got to get in that fire to know what you really have. I don't think there's any substitute for it," Gutekunst said.

Yet at the same time, "It's a young man's game. We all know that," he said.

Waiver claims could be down this year because even less will be known about other teams' players, and teams may be more inclined to stick with who's been in-house.

With the current roster at 80 and 69 players potentially sticking around (53 active roster plus 16), the Packers might only be moving on from 11 players if they keep all decisions internal.

"I think it's going to take all 69 through the season because with the rules as they are now, the ability to bring street free agents in, it's more cumbersome," Gutekunst said. "The guys on your practice squad, at some point during the year, I would expect those guys to be on the field helping you."

2. Practice is going to be different starting next week.

LaFleur said the final week of training camp will resemble more of a regular-season weekly schedule to get the team a taste of what will be the routine over the next four-plus months.

There will still be some competitive periods involving the first units going against one another, but scout-team work for both sides of the ball will be thrown in as well to start preparing specifically for Week 1 against NFC North rival Minnesota.

"It will transition into more of a game-week schedule," LaFleur said. "I just want our players and coaches to feel that rhythm."

3. The running game was finding some creases on Saturday.

Time will tell if that success carries over into Sunday's scrimmage at Lambeau Field, but Saturday's 11-on-11 periods featured a couple of impressive early runs by Aaron Jones, followed later by productive bursts right up by the gut by Jamaal Williams and AJ Dillon.

"I definitely think we're further along," center Corey Linsley said of the running game versus a year ago at this time. "I don't think that we're where we want to be. I think that, again, we kind of take the mindset that there's always room to improve. There's never going to be a perfect game played in the NFL, there's always room to grow and improve."

4. If Lane Taylor ends up winning the starting job at right guard, it'll be an impressive comeback story.

A full-time starter at left guard for three seasons from 2016-18, Taylor was lost for the season last year in Week 2 to a bicep injury. Second-round draft pick Elgton Jenkins took his job and never looked back, while Taylor returned this year to compete with guard/tackle Billy Turner and free-agent tackle Rick Wagner for two starting spots on the right side.

There's one week to go in the competition and regardless of how it shakes out, Taylor's strong rebound has been noticed by all.

"Coming back from a bicep injury, that's no joke. It's tough to come back from," Linsley said. "It's a very long injury and for him to have done that and on top of that in my mind, improved, that says a lot about him, a lot about his character, a lot about how hard he's worked this offseason."

5. Social justice initiatives could become a statewide effort among Wisconsin's sports teams.

LaFleur said he spoke via phone two nights ago with Milwaukee Bucks GM Jon Horst, and other calls with Bucks and Milwaukee Brewers executives are in the works for the state's professional teams to partner in their social justice efforts.

Gutekunst talked about being a part of the team meeting Thursday, describing the impact it had and reiterating the organization's support for the players.

"It's always valuable to meet and hear how our players feel and what's important to them," Gutekunst said. "I'm just really glad to work for an organization that's going to give these guys platforms and voices to be heard. Not every place is like that. It makes us all proud to work here.

"Some of us can get very tunnel-vision, and I certainly am one of them where it's all about football, but we care about these guys – more about the person than we do the football player, and I think that's kind of been a hallmark here for a long, long time."