GREEN BAY – The Packers conducted a rather short, half-speed, non-padded practice Friday at Ray Nitschke Field.
Here are five things we learned.
1. Sammy Watkins is grateful he only had to miss a couple of days.
The free-agent receiver, whose career has been riddled with injuries, tweaked his hamstring by – mistakenly he admits – working out right after he got off a long flight back to Green Bay.
Thankfully, an MRI showed no damage and Watkins was actually able to pass the conditioning test on Tuesday. The medical staff held him out of practice until Friday as a precaution, and he resumed taking reps with the No. 1 offense as he'd done during OTAs in the spring.
"Just happy and blessed that it was really nothing much and I just scared myself, and I was back out there today having fun," he said.
He's also well aware of how wide open the competition at receiver is for roles and playing time, and what it could mean for his career.
Allen Lazard, Randall Cobb and Watkins are the three NFL veterans, while rookie fourth-round draft pick Romeo Doubs is off to a promising start, and holdovers Juwann Winfree and Amari Rodgers have garnered attention early, too. Second-rounder Christian Watson has yet to practice due to an offseason procedure on his knee.
"Everybody that's in this room has to step up," Watkins said. "Davante Adams left. Other guys have to fill in and make plays. We've got to be on point. It's not just me feeling that pressure, all of us have to go out there and compete and make a ton of plays."
2. Randy Ramsey took a huge step on his long road back.
The third-year outside linebacker, who spent all of last season on injured reserve, was back on the practice field for the first time since last August.
Ramsey, an undrafted free agent back in 2019 who spent his rookie season on the practice squad and then made the active roster in 2020, appeared in position to crack the edge-rusher rotation last summer when he went down in the fifth practice of training camp.
It turned out to be a horrific injury – two ligament tears in his ankle and a fractured fibula. He couldn't walk for two months, and the rehab since has been a long, arduous process.
Ramsey finally hit the field again Friday, nearly a full year since he got hurt. He expects to be full-go for individual drills in the coming days while getting worked slowly back into 11-on-11 reps.
"I'm feeling good. I feel like I'm in a great space," Ramsey said. "I'm just trying to keep that motivation and keep that tunnel vision I had last year."
After playing in 12 games in 2020, mostly on special teams (he ranked third on the team in coverage tackles with nine), Ramsey eyed being one of the next men up at outside linebacker last season behind Rashan Gary and the Smiths, Preston and Za'Darius.
With Za'Darius Smith no longer in Green Bay and General Manager Brian Gutekunst adding just one draft pick, fifth-rounder Kingsley Enagbare, at his position, Ramsey feels he's got roughly the same opportunity in front of him now that he did a year ago. The depth at outside linebacker remains highly unsettled.
The Packers' paucity of moves at the position also speaks to what the Packers feel they'll have in a healthy Ramsey, and that's not lost on him, either.
"I'm very excited," he said. "The fact that Gutey, he believes in me that much, that just motivates me. When you're facing adversity, you've got some people that's for you and some people that's against you. I just try to pay attention to the people that believe in me. I just want to prove them right."
3. Even though there's no hitting the QB in practice, there's an unofficial tally still being kept.
Perhaps no defensive player has been in the backfield more in the early days of camp than fourth-year edge rusher Rashan Gary.
"Rashan is a tone-setter and I think you guys see that each and every day," Head Coach Matt LaFleur said. "He's got the capability of wrecking practice. He probably would have had four sacks yesterday. He's just relentless.
"He plays with a great motor and energy and I think it rubs off on everybody. He makes everybody around him better."
As Gary takes on a larger leadership role on defense, he continues to push himself "to being great" while feeling the entire unit's future is just as bright.
"Defense is stacked," he said. "We gotta put in the work."
4. The shuffling up front on the offensive line hasn't stopped.
For the third day of practice, the Packers went back to their No. 1 offensive line from the first day, with Yosh Nijman at left tackle, Jon Runyan at left guard, Josh Myers at center, Jake Hanson at right guard, and Royce Newman at right tackle.
Then a few more wrinkles were thrown in with Hanson taking some snaps at center and 2021 sixth-round pick Cole Van Lanen getting reps at both left tackle and right guard.
5. Friday's light practice was by design.
LaFleur said a third straight day of practice is when injuries can crop up, so the team took it easy, with the idea they'll go harder Saturday before an off day Sunday, followed by the transition to shoulder pads on Monday and full pads on Tuesday.
"I thought it was good to kind of de-load them a little bit and then we'll crank it up again tomorrow," he said.