The Green Bay Packers Monday re-signed unrestricted free-agent defensive lineman Larry Smith and signed free agent punter Nathan Chapman, GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman announced today.
Green Bay, who could be the league's only team that will return all 22 starters from its 2003 finale, for the second time in four days has re-signed an unrestricted free agent. Friday, the Packers re-signed defensive back Michael Hawthorne, like Smith a key mid-season acquisition last year by Sherman and his pro personnel staff.
The move adds depth to the Packers' defensive line, which allowed only one 100-yard rusher over the last 11 games (Thomas Jones, Nov. 16 at Tampa Bay). With help from Smith in 2003, Green Bay's rushing defense improved from 21st in the NFL in 2002 to 10th in 2003.
Smith, 29, re-joined the Packers as a free agent Oct. 9 and played in the last 10 regular-season games, and both playoff contests. A versatile defender who can play either end or tackle, he assumed a role in the Packers' defensive-line rotation beginning at St. Louis (Oct. 19), and recorded 12 total tackles, including 11/2 sacks, and one pass defensed over the course of the year, averaging 261/2 snaps per game. Initially, Smith joined the Packers as a free agent during the preseason (Aug. 18), but was released in the final roster reduction of training camp (Sept. 1).
A 6-foot-5, 310-pound veteran out of Florida State, Smith enters his sixth NFL season in 2004. He played his first four pro campaigns, and began 2003 training camp, with Jacksonville, who selected him in the second round (56th overall) of the 1999 NFL Draft.
While the Packers have worked out at least one Australian product previously, Chapman is believed to be the first Australian-born player on the Packers' roster, according to team historian Lee Remmel. The 6-foot-2, 190-pound punter has experience in both Australian Rules Football and Gridiron, an American football club league in the country.
Chapman, 28, came to Green Bay after a series of networking events. In December, several officials from Chapman's former team, the Hawthorn Football Club, visited Lambeau Field and met with Packers front-office executives, including director of scouting John Dorsey.
Then, three weeks ago, Chapman's friend saw his former coach, Peter Schwab, on a television interview talking about the meeting with Dorsey. Chapman contacted Dorsey and used his portfolio, complete with an impressive video resume from performances in two Ray Guy kicking camps last May, to score a workout last week in Green Bay.
Highly impressed by Chapman's control, leg strength and hand-eye coordination, the Packers signed him and will bring him to their post-draft mini-camp to compete with Travis Dorsch and Travis Hale. The three punters are bidding to replace Josh Bidwell, an unrestricted free agent who signed with Tampa Bay earlier this month.
Chapman began playing Australian Rules Football in 1993. He spent five seasons (1993-97) with Brisbane, and three seasons (1998-2000) with Coach Schwab's Hawthorn team. In 2001, he began serious pursuit of an NFL audition. In the meantime, he played from 2000-02 for an Australian Rules club team, Mt. Gravatt, and handled punts and kickoffs in 2003 for the Queensland Ravens, who compete in the country's American football league.
The Packers aren't the first team NFL team to sign an Australian Rules veteran. San Diego's Darren Bennett, a native of Perth, Australia, is a two-time Pro Bowler and holds every career punting record in Chargers history.
Chapman and his wife, Brittany, make their home in Queensland, Australia.