GREEN BAY – The phone had been silent for two months when Emanuel Byrd began mapping out the next phase of his life.
The undrafted rookie tight end, one of 29 players whom the Packers released on Sept. 2 in their cut to 53 players, did everything he could to make a case for a spot despite tough circumstances.
After originally signing with Kansas City, the 6-foot-2, 240-pound tight end was released during the first week of training camp. He landed days later in Green Bay, but time wasn’t on his side to make a roster spot.
When the Packers chose not to keep an extra tight end on their practice squad, Byrd returned home to Albany, Ga., to continue his training. To fill the silence of free agency, Byrd started to ponder what a life without football might look like.
“I was at home, actually trying to get a job in the school system,” Byrd said. “I was about to be a P.E. teacher. I was waiting around, didn’t start working yet. I was just working out every day and staying motivated, and believing I would get a chance.”
When it looked like his NFL window might be closing, the Packers called Byrd back in early November. With a spot open on the practice squad after Donatello Brown’s promotion to the active roster, Byrd finally had the opportunity he needed to get his career back on track.
Despite the in-season silence, Byrd had left a positive impression in Green Bay. During his first practice in training camp, Byrd immediately caught a pass from Aaron Rodgers during a scripted period and made several attention-grabbing catches throughout August.
While down a tight end after Martellus Bennett’s departure, the Packers stuck with only Lance Kendricks and Richard Rodgers during the seven weeks Byrd was on the practice squad.
It wasn’t until Rodgers injured his shoulder against Minnesota the Packers promoted him to the active roster for their Week 17 matchup with Detroit. Wanting to keep their two-tight-end packages intact, Byrd made his NFL debut inside Ford Field on Dec. 31.
During his 11 offensive snaps, Byrd caught what turned out to be the Packers’ longest pass of the day after he turned a short pass in the flat into a 29-yard gain at the start of the third quarter.
“I was just trying to make a play with the ball,” said Byrd afterwards. “Just secure the ball and make sure I do what I can to help the team.”
Byrd has taken an interesting road to Green Bay. Before going to Marshall, he actually played quarterback and tight end for two years at Georgia Military College, a junior college in Milledgeville, Ga. He planned to play at the University of Alabama-Birmingham before the Blazers temporarily dropped football, and then he committed to Marshall.
As a teammate of Packers receiver Michael Clark, Byrd caught 45 passes for 456 yards and four touchdowns in 21 games over two seasons with the Thundering Herd.
“There was a lot of grinding I had to do this year being an undrafted guy coming in, being on the practice squad, being released, being on different teams,” Byrd said. “Once I got the opportunity to play on this level, it’s just taking advantage of it. This whole year has been a learning experience. If you want an opportunity, you have to make the most of it, and be prepared and be ready when the time comes.”
Now, Byrd plans to take everything he’s learned in Green Bay and put it towards making another run at the Packers’ roster in 2018.
“It’s just confidence knowing you actually can go out there and play with those guys,” Byrd said. “Going into the offseason just working and getting better each and every day. Trying to get bigger, faster, stronger, so I can come back next year and have an opportunity to build off this.”