GREEN BAY – The redshirt year is over. That much was certain as Alex Light stared across from Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith and Whitney Mercilus in practice this past month.
It comes in stark contrast to a year ago, when the former Richmond offensive lineman was blocking reserve pass rushers in hope of making the Packers’ roster as an undrafted free agent.
Light did, showcasing the size, athleticism and hunger the Packers covet in their O-line prospects. While he made the 53-man roster, Light saw the game-day 46 on only three occasions, playing 35 combined snaps on offense and special teams.
The Green Bay Packers held their final public practice of training camp on Monday, Aug. 19, 2019.
Reps haven’t been in short supply this summer. A year older and eight pounds lighter, Light has been in the driver’s seat to be Green Bay’s primary swing tackle behind starters David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga through the first month of training camp.
That typically means being the first off the sideline at either tackle post whenever Bakhtiari or Bulaga takes a breather or has an off day, an opportunity that’s provided Light with valuable snaps against the Packers’ top pass rushers.
“I’ve been able to elevate my game going against Za’Darius and Preston every day,” said Light after practice Monday. “If I make the team and happen to be out there, then I’m going to have to go against those type of players every day. So just going against them and working my technique that I’ve learned from the coaches and older guys here … is really a blessing.”
A three-year collegiate starter who played both tackle and guard, Light signed with Green Bay last year after conferring with former teammate Thomas Evans, who went to camp with the Packers in 2017.
Although Evans didn’t make the team – he’s now a strength and conditioning coach at Delaware – he sold his former teammate and close friend on the opportunity available to college free agents in Green Bay.
The two worked out together for five weeks, with Evans providing Light with pointers on the various cadences and techniques the Packers favor to help him get comfortable.
Once the 2018 season was over, Light returned to Richmond to train with his former strength coach, Scott Brincks, in order to prepare his 6-foot-5, 309-pound body for playing in the outside-zone scheme new Packers Head Coach Matt LaFleur employs.
Looking to be leaner, faster and more flexible, Light worked out from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. every day for three months, often lifting as many as six times a day. He also adhered to a strict diet, removing carbs from nearly everything besides his post-workout lunch. Dinners were mainly meat and vegetables.
He felt an immediate difference, both mentally and physically, after reporting for the start of training camp last month.
“It’s night and day,” Light said. “Just being a pro and taking that experience from last year to this year and building upon that. My confidence is way higher. I’ve learned a lot more technique-wise. I feel like I’m smarter. Just a big difference.”
Light’s maturation became even more vital after Jason Spriggs was waived – and then placed on injured reserve – with a trapezius muscle injury early in camp. While Billy Turner has experience playing tackle, he appears slated to start at right guard after signing a long-term deal with Green Bay in March.
That currently leaves Light as the next lineman up to the two individuals responsible for keeping edge rushers off two-time MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ trail.
One practice at a time, Light is quickly earning the respect of the coaches and his peers.
“He’s an athletic guy who is a smart football player,” LaFleur said. “We’ve seen some really good flashes. It’s going to come down to the consistency with how he plays, but I think there’s been some really good moments for him.”
Light started the Packers’ preseason opener against Houston at left tackle, his most comfortable spot, prior to rotating at both tackle spots during his 30 snaps against Baltimore last Thursday.
Regardless of what the practice snaps and playing time suggest, Light still considers himself a player on the bubble. All he knows is there are two weeks left in camp and he wants to “put great tape out there – not just for the Packers but for anybody.”
Should Light make the roster once again, he credits his village of current and former teammates and coaches for helping him reach the pinnacle of the sport.
“Making the team, I was at a loss for words because it’s always been a dream of mine to play in the NFL,” Light said. “But it’s also not changing my mindset. I’m definitely working my ass off trying to get better. Nothing’s given, everything is earned. Until that day comes, I’m going to keep on grinding.”