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5 things learned from Brian Gutekunst, Matt LaFleur after Packers' roster moves

GM and head coach spoke to the media after setting the initial 53

General Manager Brian Gutekunst
General Manager Brian Gutekunst

GREEN BAY – General Manager Brian Gutekunst and Head Coach Matt LaFleur addressed the media Wednesday following the NFL's mandatory roster reduction to 53 players.

Here are five things we learned:

1. The Packers kept special teams in mind when setting their roster…and will continue to do so.

Both Gutekunst and LaFleur spoke at length about the role special teams played in how Green Bay built its 53-man roster.

After hiring Rich Bisaccia as special teams coordinator in February, the Packers signed two of his former players, defensive backs Keisean Nixon and Dallin Leavitt, from Bisaccia's time with the Oakland/Las Vegas Raiders.

Byron Storer, Bisaccia's longtime special teams assistant, also had a hand in Green Bay discovering long snapper Jack Coco, who was the lone undrafted rookie to make the initial 53.

When weighing the final few roster decisions on Tuesday, special-teams considerations topped the list for the Packers.

"We definitely made some decisions that came down solely to that," LaFleur said. "We know we have to improve in that area, and we definitely put some resources towards that, first and foremost hiring a guy like Rich and then making some of the decisions that we made."

The moves didn't stop Wednesday, as Gutekunst confirmed Green Bay also signed special-teams stalwart Rudy Ford, a sixth-year veteran who's regarded as one of the NFL's fastest punt gunners. Safety Micah Abernathy was released to make room, according to Gutekunst.

Six months into the Bisaccia era in Green Bay, Gutekunst is encouraged by the improvement he's seen so far but also acknowledged more personnel moves could be coming as the Packers look to get the most out of the third phase.

"It's something that we have not been good enough for a while now, that we needed to kind of get outside our comfort zone and do something different," Gutekunst said. "I'm very, very hopeful that this is going to get it done and have a lot of faith in it. But it's one of those things we're going to continue to turn that to make sure we get that right during the season."

One in-house transaction the Packers made Tuesday was activating veteran kicker Mason Crosby off the physically unable to perform list.

To cover all its bases, however, Green Bay signed Ramiz Ahmed to its practice squad after the first-year kicker cleared waivers. Signed on Aug. 14, Ahmed went 3-for-3 on preseason field goals while making all three of his extra points.

"I think when Mason's ready to kick and he's fully ready to go, he'll kick for us," Gutekunst said. "I think Ramiz did a great job while he's here and we're excited to get him back on the practice squad to see how he grows as well. I do think if for some reason Mason can't go that we have a very capable guy to go in there and make those kicks if we need."

2. The Packers feel good about David Bakhtiari, Elgton Jenkins and the youth on their offensive line.

Gutekunst likes how things have fallen into place up front, as Green Bay seems poised to carry 10 offensive linemen on its Week 1 roster for the first time since 2010.

Bakhtiari and Jenkins are both practicing again after starting training camp on PUP. Once the two Pro Bowlers are officially back, the Packers have six former draft picks in contention to start alongside second-year center Josh Myers.

Green Bay hasn't made a final determination on how the starting five will sort out, but Gutekunst alluded to Bakhtiari and Jenkins serving as the bookends at tackle. Jenkins has one career start at right tackle, the 2020 regular-season opener in Minnesota.

"I like our group," Gutekunst said. "I think we have enough depth there, and I really like the youth and what their upside is down the road. But it will be nice to get those two tackles back, and it's been good seeing them out on the field."

3. Amari Rodgers' versatility, practice-squad flexibility played into keeping only two running backs on the 53.

Perhaps the most surprising move the Packers made Tuesday was carrying only veteran running backs Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon on their initial 53-man roster, while signing Tyler Goodson and Patrick Taylor to their practice squad.

Green Bay felt OK going that route due to the relaxed practice-squad rules, which now allow teams to elevate individuals to the gameday roster up to three times.

One other contributing factor was the presence of second-year receiver Amari Rodgers, who occasionally lined up in the backfield during the preseason.

"With the flexibility of the elevations as we started to break this up, we thought that was probably best for our football team," Gutekunst said. "Also the emergence of Amari Rodgers doing some stuff back there, I think on gameday could help us as well. So, we have some flexibility there, so that was part of the decision."

4. Packers conducted a "game-like" practice on Wednesday.

Prior to dismissing the team for the league's mandatory stretch of player off-days, LaFleur and the coaching staff outlined a special practice that served as a type of game simulation with four quarter intervals.

It's something the Packers have done in the past under LaFleur. While there are some obvious limitations, it was a way to test the communication on both sides of the ball in an unscripted format.

"I think it's a great opportunity for our guys to get a lot of reps and make sure we're in the right football shape, if you will, and get ready to go for next week," LaFleur said.

5. LeRoy Butler spoke to the Packers' 53-man roster before practice.

LaFleur had the recently minted Pro Football Hall of Fame safety address the team about "what it means to be a Green Bay Packer" prior to Wednesday's practice.

LaFleur praised Butler for his selflessness and passion in agreeing to drive up from his home in Milwaukee to speak to the roster for "about 10 minutes" and then driving home.

According to LaFleur, Butler delivered "a pretty good speech."

"I think that says something about just how much he cares about this organization," LaFleur said. "I don't believe I'd met him in person until today, and wow, he's just got an infectious smile, you can feel his presence, and just very good positive vibes around him."

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