Football comes full circle for DeShone Kizer, Manny Wilkins

Former “Elite 11” quarterbacks now rooming together in Green Bay

Quarterbacks Manny Wilkins and DeShone Kizer
Quarterbacks Manny Wilkins and DeShone Kizer

GREEN BAY – DeShone Kizer may be a better friend than he is a roommate, but the Packers' third-year quarterback also knows what it's like to be a rookie in the NFL.

So when Manny Wilkins signed with Green Bay as a college free agent in May, Kizer offered to house the former Arizona State quarterback, whom he's known since high school when they were finalists in the Elite 11 quarterback competition.

Even if it went slightly against his usual nesting instinct.

"I'm very much an introvert when I'm in my house. It's all about my space and all my stuff has a specific spot to be," said Kizer after practice Sunday.

"I had a couple extra bedrooms and there's no reason for him to come in and have to do the whole hotel-to-dorms to trying to scramble for a place. He took one of my guest bedrooms and we've been living together since."

It isn't the first time Kizer has opened his doors to a friend. He took in former Notre Dame teammate Equanimeous St. Brown last season before the Packers' 2018 sixth-round pick got his own place – directly next door to Kizer's duplex.

Wilkins reconnected with Kizer before he even took his top 30 visit with the Packers earlier this spring. Looking for tips on what to expect from the pre-draft process, Wilkins figured who better to chat with than Kizer, a former second-round pick with a unique perspective few quarterbacks can match.

Still only 23, Kizer has seen both sides of the NFL coin after being thrown into fire in 15 starts as rookie in 2017 with Cleveland prior to backing up two-time MVP Aaron Rodgers last year in Green Bay.

With those past experiences in his back pocket, Kizer's advice to Wilkins was to find a place he could grow and develop behind an established quarterback. Like say, the Packers.

"I told him, 'Hey, if he can get himself into Green Bay, it would be an awesome opportunity to learn from Aaron and do exactly what I'm doing in my process,'" Kizer said.

As fate would have it, that's precisely how the post-draft process played out. Wilkins signed with the Packers and moved in with Kizer at the onset of May's organized team activities.

The offseason program and training camp are a relentless grind and yet Kizer didn't think twice about extending a helping hand to what could be perceived as his competition.

Instead, it only seems to have brought out the best in Kizer, who had arguably his best three practices in a Packers uniform leading up to Monday's off day.

Heralded for his pro-ready build and strong arm coming out of Notre Dame, Kizer started camp with a bang Friday when he led St. Brown perfectly on a 71-yard touchdown that traveled more than 60 yards in the air during an early team period.

It's those types of on-the-money passing plays Kizer has been trying to hone during his brief NFL career. After a full offseason in new Head Coach Matt LaFleur's system, Kizer says he's confident in both his abilities and what's being asked of him.

"He's been in a couple systems now, and I think that once again him just continually understanding the system is the first battle he's got to fight," offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said.

"When you see him out there, when he's relaxed, playing tall and just executing the play, it's good. Whenever there's some indecision at times, it gets a little crazy, and I think it's just about trying to limit that and get him more comfortable within the system."

Wilkins is on the other side of the spectrum right now as the presumptive No. 4 quarterback behind Rodgers, Kizer and Tim Boyle, who was on the Packers' active roster all of last season.

A personal matter held Boyle out of practice Saturday, affording Wilkins a handful of team reps a fourth-string quarterback wouldn't often see in July. Asked about Wilkins' workload after practice, LaFleur made note of how the rookie has earned those opportunities with how he's played early on.

"Going out there and being around '12,' Tim, DeShone, I don't feel threatened by it," said Wilkins, a three-year starter at ASU. "I'm not out here trying to be no rookie. I'm out here trying to make the best out of every opportunity.

"I feel like I know everything but I feel in order to be your best, you have to be relaxed, comfortable and feeling like you're in your element. That's what puts me in my element."

The close quarters have only strengthened the bond between Kizer and Wilkins. A music aficionado, Wilkins even pulled in Kizer to produce a little music together before camp began.

In the locker room, Kizer has helped Wilkins settle in and not feel like he's "walking on eggshells" like many other undrafted rookies. Despite the looming competition, Rodgers and Boyle have been just as welcoming to the rookie.

Wilkins does his best to keep his area in order at the duplex, though Kizer playfully pleads the fifth when asked whether Wilkins is clean. All jokes aside, however, the two have formed a friendship that extends well past their job descriptions.

"You find more about a person and learn more about the life that they live and who they really are outside of football because this is just a fraction of our life," Wilkins said.

"We're not just football players. There's other things. DeShone is a business person. He's somebody who's really good with finances. That's what he went to school for. He's so much more than quarterback No. 9 for the Packers. That's something that's been awesome to really see."

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