GREEN BAY – Packers General Manager Brian Gutekunst addressed the media about the roster and the current state of the team heading into the 2023 season.
Here are five things we learned:
1. The roster may be filled with youth, but nobody's writing the season off as just a year to mature.
As the Packers transition to Jordan Love at quarterback with a stable of first- and second-year pass-catchers, Gutekunst sees a potential long-term foundation. But he also believes he's put together a group that could be pretty darn good sooner than later.
"I know there's been a lot of talk about the youth and all that, but it's no excuse," he said. "These guys were brought in for us to be better – better than we were last year. They were all brought here for a reason. They've got to come together as a team and that takes a lot of time and effort, and certainly guys that have more experience are more used to that. But the expectations don't change."
It's always about finding a balance between "the legs" and "the speed" that young players bring with the wisdom and knowledge of experience. On the offensive side of the ball, the question will be how long will it take to earn the experience that'll provide the right balance.
"I do think there's going to be times this year where, because there were so many knowns before, that we have an opportunity to grow and grow fast," Gutekunst said. "And that's exciting."
2. The defense is in a different spot, and the GM's high expectations haven't changed from when he laid them out after the draft.
There's youth on defense, too, at edge rusher and on the defensive line, but it's both mixed in with established veterans and sprinkled throughout rotational roles.
Gutekunst likes the depth being built, with first-round draft pick Lukas Van Ness and undrafted prospect Brenton Cox Jr. added at outside linebacker, and Day 3 selections Colby Wooden and Karl Brooks joining a defensive line with two new starters in T.J. Slaton and Devonte Wyatt.
The defensive side needs to get De'Vondre Campbell back from his ankle injury, Rashan Gary back to full speed, and Eric Stokes past his long rehab process, but it can't afford another slow start like last season.
"Those guys have gelled throughout," Gutekunst said. "We're going to have to go out there and do it as a unit, but I feel good about them. Again, the expectations are high. I think they know that and I don't think they're afraid of it."
3. The organization's approach with undrafted rookies hasn't changed, and they're being watched more than anybody knows.
Three of them made the initial 53-man roster – Cox, running back Emanuel Wilson and receiver Malik Heath. One thing the Packers have always preached, and used in recruiting undrafted players to sign here, is "you're going to get a real opportunity."
All three traveled different paths. Cox was a pass rusher given "a clean slate" after being dismissed from two SEC programs. Wilson had a long way to go regarding special teams and pass protection, but came on strong the last few weeks of training camp. Gutekunst admitted Heath "should've been drafted" and wasn't surprised he showed the talent he had all along.
The organization also looks closely at how such players carry themselves on a daily basis to see if they're on track to improve on the areas that led them to be passed over in the draft.
"There's eyes on them all the time," Gutekunst said. "Not only when they're on the practice field and the preseason games, but how they are in the building. How they're treating people. Are they true pros, or are they establishing routines to allow them to grow and get better? That's part of the evaluation, too. If they do those things, then it allows them to grow."
4. The punting job wasn't so much lost by Pat O'Donnell as it was won by Daniel Whelan.
A 10-year veteran vs. an XLF punter didn't seem like a fair battle on paper, but in the end Whelan's powerful leg and long-term upside were too much for the Packers to pass up.
"Tough decision, but obviously Daniel, he came in and earned it," Gutekunst said. "Both him and Pat had great, great camps. I think Daniel learned a lot from him in his time here."
Gutekunst also expressed no concern with having a rookie kicker (sixth-round pick Anders Carlson) and young punter, who would be his holder. It was just another example of making training camp competitive to see who would rise up and seize jobs, and that's what Whelan did.
5. Don't misinterpret anything regarding the team's running backs.
Amidst a report the Packers showed interest in acquiring the Colts' Jonathan Taylor – which Gutekunst did not address specifically, other than to say the personnel department engages in discussions all the time as a regular course of business – the GM said multiple times how much he likes what the Packers have in that position group.
"We have a great running back room," Gutekunst said. "Really excited about it. I think they're a strength of our football team."