GREEN BAY – A year ago, Matt LaFleur and his Packers coaching staff didn't get to meet their rookie class face-to-face until training camp began.
Count LaFleur among those thankful for rookie minicamp being back on the schedule, as Friday's first day of practice on a beautiful mid-May day in Green Bay served as a breath of fresh air for all.
"It feels so good to be out there with these guys," LaFleur said after the first of two rookie minicamp practices. "I'll tell you the one thing that was extremely noticeable was just the energy level and the effort of these guys was outstanding."
They were certainly fired up to be practicing as NFL players for the first time.
Second-round draft pick Josh Myers and third-rounder Amari Rodgers both called it "a dream come true," and Rodgers' longtime connection to former Packers receiver Randall Cobb made it even more special to be in Green Bay.
First-round pick Eric Stokes noted he was just changing the colors of the "G" logo from playing in college at Georgia to now entering the NFL with Green Bay, and it already got him thinking about walking out of the Lambeau Field tunnel in front of a full house come this fall.
"It still gives me chills now just thinking about it," Stokes said. "I just can't wait."
There's a long way to go before that moment arrives, and the rookies won't get any 11-on-11 snaps until OTAs begin later this month. The minicamp practices, which have just 28 players on Clarke Hinkle Field, are focused mostly on position drills.
The primary goal of the weekend is simply for the rookies to learn the ropes and shake off some of the natural jitters that come with trying to make a good first impression.
"Going out in front of coaches for the first time you're going to be a little bit nervous," Rodgers said. "But once I got a couple routes in, caught a couple balls, it's just me doing what I've been doing my whole life."
As for those impressions, the players came as advertised. LaFleur watched for how players communicated as well as how they competed, even in a non-contact setting.
He noted Stokes' speed was hard to miss, as was Rodgers' solid frame (5-9, 212).
"He looks like a grown man," LaFleur said of the Clemson receiver. "He's got that big, running back, thick frame. Then you watch him run routes and he doesn't move like most traditional running backs.
"He seems to be a very sharp guy who's very hungry and that's always an important part of the process. Got a lot of faith in Jason Vrabel and Ruvell Martin to get him caught up to the veterans in short order."
Take an inside look at the first day of Packers rookie minicamp on Friday, May 14.
The Packers' first three picks have the best chance to earn prominent roles as rookies.
Stokes will be in the mix immediately with the team's top three cornerbacks (Jaire Alexander, Kevin King, Chandon Sullivan), Myers will battle for the open starting job at center, and Rodgers brings a skill set to the receiver group no one else has, plus the ability to be the team's No. 1 return man right away.
Late-round or undrafted surprises always emerge at some point, too, so no one's future is determined. Where everyone fits best won't be decided until well into training camp and the preseason games this summer, but a whole new set of careers is officially underway.
"One of the key messages to our team is it doesn't necessarily matter how you got here," LaFleur said. "All that matters is what you do when you are here. And these guys are going to have to earn it. These guys are going to have to do it on a consistent basis. But I thought it was a good first day.
"You can tell the character of this group is extremely high and that is going to be so valuable to our football team and our locker room."