GREEN BAY – A day after selecting the Packers' initial 53-man roster for 2020, General Manager Brian Gutekunst sounded as eager to kick off the season as anyone.
His optimism was audible, too.
As the head of the Packers' football operation, Gutekunst likes what Green Bay has at key positions, particularly quarterback and linebacker, and believes the progress Aaron Rodgers and Head Coach Matt LaFleur have made in their second season together can spearhead success.
"There's just a confidence level there in what they're doing and in how this thing has grown," Gutekunst said Sunday evening. "That's probably the biggest thing that I've seen. There's not as much hesitation, I think, as they go through things.
"I'm excited at how they've grown."
The quarterback position as a whole is also as promising as it's been in his tenure as GM, with Tim Boyle and rookie first-round draft pick Jordan Love putting together "excellent camps."
Gutekunst suggested Boyle's knowledge of the offense and NFL experience as a third-year player, combined with the lack of on-field offseason and preseason games for Love, have Boyle ahead in the backup race as the season begins. But most important is he really likes where the Packers sit at the game's most important position.
"We feel really good about both our backup quarterbacks and feel they both have bright futures in the National Football League," Gutekunst said.
Defensively, Gutekunst pegged the outside linebacker group – featuring Za'Darius Smith and Preston Smith plus 2019 first-round pick Rashan Gary at the top of the depth chart, followed by young prospects Randy Ramsey and seventh-round draft pick Jonathan Garvin – as a team strength.
He's equally fired up about his biggest free-agent acquisition this past offseason, inside linebacker Christian Kirksey, taking the reins of defensive coordinator Mike Pettine's defense in the middle of the field.
"The fun thing was just how quickly he got up to speed and started leading that defense," Gutekunst said of Kirksey, who spent his first six years in the league with Cleveland. "He's a very athletic player. He's obviously proven a lot in this league. He's healthy and I think he adds a little bit of dynamic ability that maybe we've been missing for a little while."
With the opener at Minnesota now a week away, roster machinations are not necessarily done. The Packers filled out most of their practice squad Sunday night, and some roster spots could still open up on the 53 based on injuries.
Ramsey, inside linebacker Kamal Martin and cornerback Kabion Ento all ended training camp not practicing due to injuries. With new pandemic-related rules for 2020 allowing players to come back from injured reserve in as little as three weeks, and with no limit on the number of players who can return from IR, all the added flexibility could lead to significant roster movement by the end of this week.
"That's definitely helpful," Gutekunst said.
So things won't be slowing down after a busy weekend, but Gutekunst has always claimed roster building is a 24-7-365 endeavor, perhaps this year more than ever.
"At the end of day, it's tough when you've had multiple guys who have had great camps and you've got to pare it down," he said. "That's not easy. But ultimately that's my job and you're always hoping that you've got the right 53 guys in there."
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