Brian Gutekunst likes where Packers’ roster is headed

GM Brian Gutekunst
GM Brian Gutekunst

GREEN BAY – The sleepless nights and long hours of grinding tape are finally over for Brian Gutekunst and his scouts. The Packers’ 53-man roster and 10-man practice squad are set for Week 1.

In the end, the Packers’ general manager chose to go with one backup quarterback, Tim Boyle, behind Aaron Rodgers, waiving third-year veteran DeShone Kizer in the process.

The decision to keep only two quarterbacks on the active roster was one Gutekunst made in unison with Head Coach Matt LaFleur, who felt comfortable with it after being on previous teams with the same two-QB approach.

Gutekunst believes Kizer still has a bright future ahead of him after being claimed Sunday by Oakland, but it was the totality of Boyle’s work in camp and his 112.9 preseason passer rating that told the Packers he was ready for this opportunity.

“I think obviously both of those guys played really well, but I think Tim performed better in the preseason games when it mattered,” said Gutekunst, who signed rookie Manny Wilkins to the practice squad as the Packers’ No. 3 QB.

“Both those guys are quality NFL quarterbacks and they've done a nice job over the time that they've been here. We wish DeShone nothing but the best. I think he's going to do outstanding in Oakland. But I think at this time Tim was a little bit ahead of him.”

All told, the Packers chose to keep all eight of their rookie draft picks, including running back Dexter Williams. The sixth-round pick was locked in one of the tightest roster battles with Tra Carson for the No. 3 job at running back.

What gave Williams the edge was a “unique skillset” and intriguing acceleration to be a potential difference-maker down the line for the offense. At the same time, Gutekunst was happy to retain Carson on the practice squad.

Defensively, the Packers opted to stay in-house at the inside linebacker position by retaining rookie seventh-round pick Ty Summers and James Crawford behind Blake Martinez and Oren Burks.

Gutekunst said he’s hopeful the Packers will get Burks “back here soon” after the 2018 third-round pick received good news recently with his chest injury.

The decision to not seek an outside option in the interim came down to the Packers liking how Summers responded to adversity early in the preseason and also how much defensive coordinator Mike Pettine uses a hybrid safety in his sub-packages.

To that end, Green Bay kept 11 defensive backs on the roster, the fifth consecutive year the Packers have retained at least 11 players in the secondary.

“Obviously, Ty had a really good preseason and kind of stepped up and made us feel pretty comfortable about keeping him around,” Gutekunst said. “I also think if you look at our history, the amount of times we actually have two inside linebackers on the field is another thing.”

Second-year cornerback Chandon Sullivan, signed off the street in May, was one of five former undrafted defensive backs to survive the weekend.

A rangy, ball-hawking cornerback who also can play safety, Sullivan had 17 tackles, five passes defensed and an interception in four preseason games. Still, that didn’t help him sleep any easier leading up to the 3 p.m. CT deadline Saturday for all NFL teams to reduce their rosters from 90 to 53.

It wasn’t until Sullivan received a call from position coach Jason Simmons roughly an hour after the deadline he finally felt at ease.

‘He was like, ‘Hey Sully, you know who this is?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, Coach. I talk to you every day. I know your voice,’” said Sullivan, laughing. “I was definitely happy, excited. That’s what I shot for since I got here in May. But I’m not satisfied. I’m not happy. I want to continue to work and continue to get better and prove my worth.”

The Packers held their first official practice of the regular season in preparation for Thursday’s opener in Chicago.

Perhaps the two best stories of the weekend were undrafted rookie receiver Darrius Shepherd and offensive lineman Cole Madison.

Five months ago, Shepherd was the only tryout player to receive a contract from the Packers after the team’s rookie minicamp. His production in the slot and added versatility as a returner helped the 5-foot-10, 186-pound receiver punch his ticket to the 53.

Madison, a fifth-round pick in 2018, returned to the Packers in April after stepping away from football last year to concentrate on his mental health. Madison had some rust to knock off, but Gutekunst felt “the guy we drafted, the talent we saw coming out of Washington State” emerged during camp.

Madison said he was nervous all week, especially after sitting out Thursday’s preseason finale against Kansas City with an ankle injury, but was overjoyed when he discovered he’d made the team.

“I can’t describe it. It means the world to me,” Madison said. “First of all, the Packers organization this last year doing what they did for me, giving me all the resources I needed to get ready, to get right. They had my back. I came back and just wanted to prove to them, hey, I belong here. I belong in this spot.”

With Thursday’s opener in Chicago only days away, the focus will quickly shift from determining the 53 to who will be contributing on the Packers’ game-day 46 against the Bears.

As a whole, Gutekunst is pleased with how everything looks.

“I like our veteran leadership,” Gutekunst said. “We do have a lot of new in our locker room and our coaching staff, so there’s going to be a time for us to figure some things out. I do like how they’re coming together right now.”

See headshots and action shots of the complete Green Bay Packers 2019 roster.

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