GREEN BAY – They looked around the locker room at nameplates they recognize. They got to put on an NFL jersey and helmet for the first time. Heck, some even signed their contracts already.
But if there’s one thing the Packers’ 2019 rookie class appreciated the most Friday, it might have been actually getting to do some football drills in minicamp practice.
“It felt good to be back on the football field doing football stuff,” linebacker and seventh-round pick Ty Summers said. “It’s been four full months – or I guess five, I don’t really know – where it’s been constantly working out, and I love working out as much as the next guy. But to get back to doing what we’re getting paid to do essentially, it’s definitely an enjoyable time.”
With all the training for the scouting combine and pro days finally over, the Packers’ eight-player draft class, 11 undrafted free agents and 20 tryout hopefuls took the field at the Don Hutson Center for their first official NFL practice.
Head Coach Matt LaFleur did not have any 11-on-11 periods but instead focused on a lot of individual position work. Which might seem mundane, but it was still a welcome change from prepping for 40-yard dashes and shuttle runs.
“There’s nothing wrong with going back to the fundamentals,” running back and sixth-round pick Dexter Williams said. “That’s getting back to the basics and getting back in the flow of everything, just getting your body moving, getting back into football condition.”
LaFleur’s goals for the weekend are to lay out expectations and provide a “foundation” for what to expect when the rookies join the veterans for the rest of the offseason program.
The new head coach wasn’t just a bystander or observer, either. The former small-college quarterback was slinging passes on short routes to running backs, getting a first-hand look at how some of the prospects actually move in live action.
After several meetings to introduce some rules and initial portions of the playbook, LaFleur wanted to see the young players cut it loose, as much as they could in non-contact work.
“There’s a lot of evaluation that goes on in these two days,” he said. “You definitely want to give them ample time to be able to go out and prepare and play fast and really showcase their skill set.”
The players took that to heart, knowing first impressions matter. The only rookie who didn’t practice was tight end and third-round pick Jace Sternberger, who was dealing with an illness, but he plans on practicing Saturday.
“I always want to present myself in a good way,” cornerback and sixth-round pick Ka’Dar Hollman said. “So I’m just going out there and playing my hardest, to show them my ability, to show them that they’re getting the player they watched on film.”
Packers rookies did on-field work inside the Don Hutson Center on Friday.
With the veterans gone for the weekend, these first few days also serve as a time for the rookie class to get to know one another. As much as they’re excited to get their pro careers underway, they’re also eager to get to know the teammates going through the same transition they are.
“It’s different to be a Packer. I can really feel that kind of bond with those guys already,” safety and first-round pick Darnell Savage said. “I already feel like I’m part of a family.”
After the weekend, the rookies will get next week off before joining the veterans for workouts. They’ll finish up the final week of Phase 2 of the offseason program before moving into Phase 3, which is three weeks of OTAs followed by the concluding mandatory minicamp.
All the first-day jitters need to be long gone from their system by then, and they will be. But these opening moments in the NFL will stick around as memories for a while.
“Just driving by Lambeau Field, that was the moment I was just like, ‘Wow,’” Summers said. “This is my first time being in Wisconsin, being in Green Bay, seeing the field in person. It was a surreal moment. ‘OK, this is actually happening.’”