GREEN BAY – The Packers returned to Nitschke Field one Monday for this week's lone public workout in Green Bay before Wednesday's joint practice in Cincinnati.
Here are five things we learned:
1. Danny Etling's release hasn't shifted Sean Clifford's mentality.
The Packers trimmed their quarterback room to three Sunday with the release of 28-year-old veteran Danny Etling, who first signed to Green Bay's practice squad in December 2021.
The decision came down to wanting to give more reps to rookie fifth-round pick Sean Clifford and former USFL MVP Alex McGough, who are vying to back up first-year starting quarterback Jordan Love.
"That's obviously a very difficult decision, the amount of respect that everybody has in here for Danny," Head Coach Matt LaFleur said. "It is tough to rep four guys, especially when you have a young quarterback, so we just thought it was unfortunately a necessary move to get everybody the amount of reps they needed."
Clifford learned a great deal from working with Etling over the past four months, from how to prepare and study to reading NFL defenses. Still, it was an unfortunate, but inevitable, reality that Green Bay eventually would scale down to three QBs.
Clifford is no stranger to competition, either. A four-year starter at Penn State, Clifford held off highly touted QB prospect Will Levis for the Nittany Lions' starting job midway through his college career.
While Etling is gone, Clifford knows there's still plenty of work to do to solidify himself as Love's primary backup.
"I never try to put unnecessary pressures on myself, especially when a month from now is still a month from now," Clifford said. "I'd rather focus on what I can do today and what I can do tomorrow to get myself better in the moment. Those little wins and stacking day by day, I feel like, that's always been my mantra and that's how you continuously improve. For me, no, I'm just focusing on what I can control right now."
2. Clifford is excited to make his NFL debut in his hometown.
The Packers' joint practice this week against the Bengals will be a homecoming for Clifford, a native of Cincinnati who starred at nearby St. Xavier High School.
The 6-foot-2, 218-pound quarterback grew up a Bengals fan and frequently attended home games at Paycor Stadium with his brother Liam, who is now a redshirt sophomore receiver at Penn State.
In all likelihood, Clifford's first NFL action will come in that same stadium Friday night. He's expecting to have between 20 and 30 friends in attendance.
"You'll definitely see some Clifford shirts walking around the stadium," he said, smiling. "That's my home. I'm going to have a lot of family out there and friends. I know I'm excited to see them. Very excited to go back to Cincy and I'm excited to get to experience going against another team, seeing how they practice, taking the good from what they're doing and try to incorporate it across the way."
3. Rashan Gary "honored" to be back on an NFL practice field.
Nine months and one day after tearing his ACL in Detroit, the Packers' budding pass rusher was activated off physically unable to perform and back on the practice field Monday.
While Gary didn't participate in team 11-on-11, the 6-foot-5, 272-pound linebacker led his position through their individual drills and addressed the team in the post-practice huddle.
"Like I was telling the guys, man, it's a complete honor, it's a privilege to be back on the field," Gary said. "My circle, my family, everybody knows what I've been putting into this. I told them that it means a lot. I'm just happy and excited to be back out there."
When asked about his status for the regular-season opener in Chicago, Gary said he and the team are still taking it "day by day," but reiterated words can't express the feeling of crossing this checkpoint in his rehab.
After a blazing start in which he had 12 quarterback hits and six sacks in the first nine games last year, Gary is hungry to pick up where he left off last season.
"I've always been a hungry player, so it sparked a little bit more fuel up my (butt)," Gary said. "I'm just excited to be back."
4. Gary wasn't the only Packers player practicing for the first time.
Rookie Grant DuBose also made his training camp debut Monday, the first time he's practiced since the Packers drafted him in the seventh round this spring.
DuBose has been sidelined since team doctors "discovered" he had a back injury during rookie minicamp in early May. It's been a long wait and DuBose knows he has to make up for lost time at a crowded position, but his spirits remain high.
"It just felt good to be able to put on my pads and just be able to go out there and play amongst my teammates and compete amongst the guys in my room," DuBose said. "I'm excited about that. It's just the beginning."
That leaves cornerback Eric Stokes as the only player left on the Packers' PUP. Stokes has been out since tearing his meniscus and sustaining a Lisfranc injury in the same Lions game in which Gary tore his ACL.
"Watching him check off the boxes that he wanted to check off, man, it means a lot," said Gary of Stokes. "Days that I might feel like I don't have enough juice, he's there for me and vice versa. We pick up each other. I just can't wait for him to touch the field because he's going to surprise a lot of people."
5. Packers ready to test themselves in Cincinnati.
After a spring and summer of taking reps against one another, Green Bay's roster will have a chance to line up against another opponent.
That challenge comes in the form of a talented Bengals football team coming off back-to-back playoff appearances, though it appears unlikely quarterback Joe Burrow will practice after injuring his calf last month.
Beyond just the X's and O's, LaFleur believes the trip will be a great binding agent for a young football team transitioning to a new starting QB.
"The more these guys hang out together, the more they get to know each other, I think the more they'll fight for one another," LaFleur said. "I think it's a unique opportunity going against one of the premier teams in the National Football League. I wish Joe was going to be practicing, not to say that he's not, but I'm guessing that he's not going to be. It's going to be a great test for our football team."