The Green Bay Packers are sending 19 players to NFL Europe this spring, looking to develop some more future talent to later be on display at Lambeau Field. The 19 players the Packers have allocated to NFLE is a record and is part of a record 266 players allocated by the 32 teams around the NFL.
In 2004, the Packers roster - along with most of the other NFL teams - was peppered with players who once honed their skills across the Atlantic Ocean. Nine alumni of NFL Europe had a hand in the Packers NFC North Division title.
Overall, 265 players with past NFL Europe experience spent time on the rosters of NFL teams in 2004 and five of those players - including Green Bay guard Marco Rivera - were active participants in Sunday's Pro Bowl. Over the past nine seasons, 16 different former NFLE players have been selected to the NFL All-Star game.
Of the 19 Packers that will be heading to Tampa for training camp in early March, three of them spent time on the team's 53-man active roster in 2004. Wide receiver Kelvin Kight, guard Steve Morley, and punter B.J. Sander are among those looking to follow in the footsteps of the NFL-E graduates on the Green Bay roster.
Here's a look at the nine former NFL Europe players who contributed to the efforts of the 2004 Packers:
Cullen Jenkins - This defensive lineman first came to Green Bay as an undrafted free agent in 2003, but was released at the end of training camp. Jenkins re-signed with the team and played with the Cologne Centurions in the spring of 2004, making 24 tackles and picking up 1.5 sacks as he started all 10 games for the German team.
Jenkins, who said that his NFL Europe experience gave him a confidence boost, returned to Green Bay and put on a good show in training camp, earning him a spot on the active roster. The former Central Michigan standout was one of the finest individual success stories of 2004 for the Green and Gold, earning six starts as he played in all 16 games and tied Aaron Kampman for second on the team with 4.5 sacks.
Steve Josue - A seventh-round pick of the Packers in 2003, Josue was cut at the end of training camp that summer before being re-signed and allocated to the Amsterdam Admirals. He made five starts for the Dutch outfit in 2004 and had one sack.
Josue was again released at the end of the Packers' camp last summer, but spent time on the practice squads of the Washington Redskins and San Francisco 49ers before being signed to the Packers' active roster in December. The linebacker played the final four regular season games for Green Bay, tallying nine tackles in a reserve role and five more on special teams.
Paris Lenon - After playing with the XFL's Memphis Maniax in 2001, Lenon was signed by the Packers and wound up spending time on the team's practice squad during that season. Green Bay sent him to Amsterdam for the 2002 NFL Europe season where he led the Admirals with 50 tackles and intercepted two passes.
Since then, Lenon has played in all 48 of the Packers' regular season contests and all five playoff games, becoming a special teams stalwart. He has made 46 tackles in kick coverage over the past three seasons, and in 2004 made his first four NFL starts. The linebacker made a career-high 28 tackles on the year.
Craig Nall - Nall has parlayed his successful 2003 NFL Europe campaign with the Scottish Claymores into the role of Brett Favre's primary backup. The quarterback earned All-NFLE honors for his work at the controls of the Claymores' record-setting offense two seasons ago. Nall threw for 2,050 yards in 10 starts, along with a league-best 18 touchdown passes and for a passer rating of 95.9.
2004 saw his role in the Green Bay offense increase as he saw the first extended action of his NFL career. Prior to this season, Nall had not attempted a pass in a regular season game. In 2004, the signal-caller saw action in five contests and completed 23-of-33 passes for 314 yards with four scoring strikes and no interceptions for a remarkable rating of 139.4.
J.T. O'Sullivan - Acquired by the Packers in October of 2004 in a trade with the New Orleans Saints, O'Sullivan enjoyed success in Europe last spring as he led the Frankfurt Galaxy to a berth in World Bowl XII. The quarterback completed more than 60% of his passes for Frankfurt, throwing for 1,527 yards and 10 touchdowns on the way to the championship game appearance.
Upon his arrival in Green Bay, O'Sullivan dressed but was inactive as the team's third quarterback for 11 games. He did see the field in the regular season finale, twice taking a knee on the final snaps of the win at Chicago.
Doug Pederson - Like the other two quarterbacks who played a reserve role for the Packers in 2004, Pederson has a history playing football in Europe. Pederson played two seasons for the then World League, passing for the New York/New Jersey Knights in 1992 and the Rhein Fire in 1995.
Since his two stints playing abroad, Pederson has had two stints with the Packers. He first came to Wisconsin as a free agent in 1995 and worked his way up to number two on the depth chart, also serving as the holder in 1998 before leaving for starting roles in Philadelphia and Cleveland in 1999 and 2000, respectively.
Pederson returned to Green Bay in 2001 and served as Favre's primary backup, as well as the holder for all of Ryan Longwell's field goals and extra points before being knocked out with a back/rib injury in early 2004.
Marco Rivera - The most heralded Packer among the former NFL Europe standouts, Rivera earned his third consecutive trip to the Pro Bowl in 2004. Nearly a decade ago, the right guard out of Penn State was a sixth-round selection of the Packers in 1996. After being declared a game-day inactive for every game in '96, Rivera was allocated to the Scottish Claymores where he gained invaluable game experience in the spring of 1997.
He returned stateside and became a vital player on the special teams unit on the '97 NFC Champion team before stepping into the starting lineup in 1998. Since taking over the starting job in '98, Rivera has become one of the most durable players in the league, starting and playing in 111 of the 112 games over those seven seasons.
Rivera currently holds a 99-game regular season starts streak, and has also started each of the Packers' eight postseason games since 1998. He made his second straight start in the Pro Bowl this season.
A fan favorite during his time in Scotland, Rivera was inducted to the Claymores' Hall of Fame in 2003.
Ben Steele - Although 2004 was the first season Steele saw action in an NFL game, the tight end has been working his way up for four seasons since leaving Mesa State College. In 2002, the San Francisco 49ers allocated Steele to the Frankfurt Galaxy where he caught 11 passes for 110 yards and a touchdown.
Steele signed with the Packers just before the start of the regular season after being released by the Minnesota Vikings and became one of the standouts on the Green and Gold's special teams units. He finished second on the team with 17 special teams tackles and made a crucial fumble recovery that helped to set up the game-winning field goal in the November victory over Minnesota. Steele also assumed the number two tight end role following David Martin's season-ending injury and caught four passes for 42 yards.
Walter Williams - This running back signed a free agent contract with Green Bay in January of 2004 and was allocated to the Rhein Fire. In an injury-shortened season, Williams gained 203 yards in four games with the German club.
Williams earned a spot on the Packers' practice squad early in the 2004 season and was called up to the active roster on the eve of the November game at Houston. In that game, Williams came on in relief of an injured Ahman Green and carried the ball six times for 42 yards before leaving with an ankle injury of his own. He was placed on injured reserve a week later and will compete for a roster spot in 2005.