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5 things learned during Packers' 2023 season-ending locker room

Green Bay excited for the future, Jon Runyan appreciates his four seasons here

Locker room clean out
Locker room clean out

GREEN BAY – Numerous Packers players addressed the media during the team's season-ending availability Monday. Here are five things we learned:

  1. Despite the disappointing ending, the Packers' locker room was filled with optimism.

The fallout of last Saturday's 24-21 loss to San Francisco was still fresh on players' minds as they cleaned out their lockers, but so too was the appreciation for a Packers season unlike any other.

With the youngest roster in the league, Green Bay overcame a litany of injuries and other adversity to earn a fourth playoff appearance during Matt LaFleur's five seasons as head coach. One week later, the Packers became the first No. 7 seed to win a playoff game with a 48-32 victory over the second-seeded Dallas Cowboys in the wild-card round.

Green Bay is the youngest team to win a postseason game since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970. The Packers deployed 13 rookies against Dallas, the most to ever to play in a single playoff game for Green Bay. It also tied the Pittsburgh Steelers for the most rookies to play in an NFL postseason game over the past 35 seasons.

"Obviously ending like that is tough for us," receiver Christian Watson said. "But just to look back and appreciate where we were at and where we are now, we have a lot to be thankful for, for sure.

"I think the energy and vibe going into the offseason is definitely there. We have to take advantage of it, as well. We have a lot of guys that have the right mentality going into it, so we're definitely excited for what we're going to look like going forward."

As the Packers venture into 2024, they know the expectations will be significantly higher and the returning veterans are fully embracing that. When asked what his goal is for next season, left guard Elgton Jenkins emphatically stated: "To take it all the way."

"Most definitely," Jenkins said. "Get better as an offense, trust in the process and get better individually so collectively we can be better and take it all the way."

  1. The past four years have meant everything to Jon Runyan.

Monday's final locker-room availability was highly emotional for the Packers' veteran guard, who started 50 games and was one of only nine offensive linemen in the league to play in every regular-season game since 2020 (67 games).

A sixth-round pick out of Michigan, Runyan is one of 12 pending unrestricted free agents, and it's not clear whether the Packers would bring him back with Sean Rhyan, a 2022 third-round pick who rotated with Runyan during the second half of the season at right guard, seemingly in line to replace him.

Runyan fought back tears when asked what it meant to play in Green Bay the past four years, adding that "I don't know if there's a better organization out there."

"Just the brotherhood is unreal," Runyan said. "This organization, everybody inside, the people out of the facility, the fans. It's a special place. There's some really good people here. I hope I don't leave. It's a good time. I really appreciate it."

On Monday, LaFleur commended the 6-foot-4, 307-pound guard for how he pushed through some things physically this year to stay on the field. Runyan played the fourth most snaps on offense (928) despite the late-season rotation with Rhyan, which didn't bother Runyan and helped his body heal.

"A lot of stuff was out of my control, personally, but overall, I feel pretty good with how the season went," Runyan said. "I wasn't really fazed by the rotation and everything, and looking back it was kind of beneficial for my body and it kind of helped me play better, sparked something inside of me and I felt better physically and mentally, and I was able to go out there and play well."

  1. Watson is seeking more information on hamstring issues and looking forward to working out with Jordan Love again this offseason.

Both Watson and LaFleur confirmed the second-year receiver and organization have a plan in place to "figure out" the hamstring injuries that sidelined Watson for eight games.

The former second-round pick initially tweaked his hamstring at the end of training camp, causing him to miss the first three games. Watson had another flare-up near the end of a seven-catch, 79-yard game against Kansas City on Dec. 3 that kept him out of the final five regular-season games.

"I gotta find out what the root of it is," said Watson, who had 26 catches for 422 yards and five TDs this year. "I don't necessarily know if it's a strength thing anywhere. It could be flexibility.

"I know for a fact that my hamstrings are strong. I know I'm a strong guy, I'm a lean guy. I've just got to find ways to take pressure off one spot and let it all work together. That's what I'm going to figure out."

When healthy, the 6-foot-4, 208-pound receiver has proven to be an all-around threat in Green Bay's offense. He's caught 69 passes for 1,033 yards (15.0 yards per catch) and 12 touchdowns in 23 games. His seven receiving TDs in 2022 tied for most among NFL rookies.

The silver lining for Watson was finishing the year on the field, playing 37 snaps in last Saturday's divisional playoff game against San Francisco. After taking some time rest time to recover from the season, Watson said he looks forward to possibly going back out to California to work out with Love and some of his fellow wideouts like they did last offseason.

"For sure. I think it was great for us just to bond and get together," Watson said. "I think we all have the right mentality going forward, so we're going to take advantage of it as much as we can. I know I'm going to be out there, and I can assume a bunch of guys will be out there, as well."

  1. Jonathan Owens hopes to have solidified himself as an NFL starting safety.

With injuries to Darnell Savage and Rudy Ford on the back end, Owens stepped into the Packers' starting lineup midseason and never looked back.

In starting the final 13 games (including playoffs), the fifth-year veteran safety finished third on the team in tackles (84) to go along with three pass breakups, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery for a 27-yard touchdown against Detroit on Thanksgiving.

Facing unrestricted free agency for the second straight offseason, the 5-foot-11, 210-pound safety hopes to have proven he has what it takes to be a starting safety in the NFL.

"I believe I have," Owens said. "I got the opportunity this year and didn't look back. That's all I wanted to do. Show how consistent I can be and how reliable I can be for the coaches and also special teams-wise as well. I pride myself on being able to do both. So regardless of whatever my role is I'm going to continue to maximize it."

When asked about his future, Owens told reporters that "you can't stress on it." For now, he's looking forward to decompressing and supporting his wife, Simone Biles, as she prepares for the 2024 Paris Olympics, which run concurrent with the start of training camp.

"That comes with it, man, but I'll make sure I'm supporting her," Owens said. "It's my time to step back and I'll go ahead and make sure the house and everything is just right. So, I'm looking forward to that."

  1. Kingsley Enagbare is ready to attack his rehab after season-ending knee injury.

The Packers' second-year linebacker was in good spirits walking around the locker room Monday but confirmed he tore his anterior cruciate ligament in Dallas.

"I'm solid," Enagbare said. "I'm ready to start my journey."

The former fifth-round pick had 37 tackles with six quarterback hits and two sacks in 17 regular-season games, including four starts earlier in the season while Rashan Gary was working his way back from his own torn ACL.

Enagbare also was a core contributor on Green Bay's special-teams units, playing 194 snaps and registering two coverage tackles. Like Gary did this past season, Enagbare's goal is to get back on the field in 2024.

"I feel like I had a good season," Enagbare said. "Definitely improved a lot. I guess everybody would probably feel like that as a competitor, but I felt like I left some stuff out there. I'm excited to improve on this year and make that Year 3 jump."

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