SHAWANO, Wis.—It's fitting Casey Hayward and Micah Hyde are two of the players taking center stage during the Packers' 10th annual Tailgate Tour this week.
Those two are in line for potentially larger roles in a Green Bay cornerback room that lost starter Tramon Williams and reserve Davon House to free agency last month.
"It was huge having them. I'd be lying if I said they weren't a huge part of our secondary," Hyde said just before the tour bus departed Lambeau Field on Tuesday morning for Shawano Community High School, the first of several surprise stops on the five-day excursion. "I respect both of their games, but at the same time, you can't worry about departures.
The 2015 Green Bay Packers Tailgate Tour set off from Lambeau Field Tuesday morning. Photos by Tyler Gajewski/Packers.com.
"I have 100 percent faith in the guys that are here. We're a close-knit group, and we have some competitors. The past couple years, we've had a lot of depth and a lot of guys weren't able to perform because of the depth. The guys that are here will be ready to go, and I'm looking forward to it."
The first guys the Packers will look to are Hayward and Hyde, who shared the nickel and dime roles off and on with House last season, while Hyde also played some safety.
Now, Hayward projects as a starter in Williams' place with Hyde the full-time nickel in the slot. The two also could compete for the starting job, though Hayward has more experience as an outside corner than Hyde.
Either way, Hayward said he'll approach the opportunity the same way he always has, while Hyde called it a chance for the entire secondary to step forward.
"I've been productive since I've been here, and I'm going to come with the same focus I have been," said Hayward, who has nine interceptions in three seasons, his middle year of 2013 a lost one due to injuries. "When guys leave, like veteran guys, the next thing is being a leader. That's the next thing, the next role."
The 10th annual Tailgate Tour kicked off with surprise visit to Shawano High School. TE Andrew Quarless read the morning announcements and the Packers held a Q&A session with students. Photos by Aaron Popkey/Packers.com.
Their role this week is to deliver those messages of leadership around the state, and the first stop began with tight end Andrew Quarless hopping on the Shawano High PA system a little after 9 a.m. to deliver the morning announcements and order all the students into the gymnasium.
Once there, the students heard from Quarless and former receiver Bill Schroeder about respecting others, particularly on social media, and former defensive tackle Gilbert Brown spoke on setting and striving for goals.
Hyde and Hayward then opened the question-and-answer portion, which included Hyde getting a prom invite from a not-so-bashful teenager.
This year's player contingent is slightly larger than in the past for the 10th annual tour and also includes alumni Antonio Freeman, Jerry Kramer and Dave Robinson, along with President/CEO Mark Murphy.
"It's always amazing," Freeman said of the fans he meets on the tour, having participated in one before. "I haven't touched a football in Lambeau Field in over a decade, and anytime anyone that's put on that green and gold jersey, when they come to town, the state of Wisconsin does a great job of rolling out the red carpet and making us feel like we're at home, and always making us feel like we're still superstars. That's always great."
The 10th annual Packers Tailgate Tour made a surprise stop at the Wisconsin Veterans Home at Chippewa Falls on Tuesday afternoon. Photos by Aaron Popkey/Packers.com.
After a round of tossing mini-footballs and T-shirts into the bleachers for the Shawano students, the group was off to continue day one, which was set to conclude with a tailgate party in the western Wisconsin city of Menomonie.
"It's overwhelming to go to some of these places and see 1,500 or 3,000 fans in one area," Freeman said. "Just the response they give us, the way they make us feel when we pull up."
Added Schroeder: "It's the stories they have about a game they went to or somebody they met in the past, and it's not always here. I've been all over the world, and there are Packer fans all over the place. I wouldn't doubt we're going to meet some people from overseas."
The tailgate parties will welcome the players and alumni arriving at each location at 6 p.m., and will run until 8:30 p.m., except in Sheboygan, where the tailgate party will take place from 1 to 3:30 p.m. A local non-profit organization will host each party, which will feature food, giveaways, question-and-answer sessions and autographs. Tailgate party tickets cost $30, and attendees should note that the Robinson and Kramer autograph sessions will be limited to 150 randomly selected attendees at each location.
General admission tickets also will be available for $5 for the Menomonie and Baraboo tailgate party locations, which includes access to the Q-and-A sessions as well as tailgate party activities. Food and beverages will be available for purchase.