GREEN BAY – The Packers' locker room will undergo significant change over the next day and a half as the roster is pared down to the league-mandated 53 players.
But Head Coach Matt LaFleur believes the closeness and camaraderie that has developed throughout training camp and the preseason can carry over into the regular season, even as many names and faces will no longer be around.
"Yeah, absolutely," LaFleur said Sunday, roughly 24 hours following the end of the third and final preseason game, with Tuesday's deadline for roster decisions looming. "I think that's one of your goals in training camp is to really come together and unify as a team, understanding that there's a long road ahead of you.
"You've got to be able to create such a strong bond that when things get tough nobody cracks, and everybody's still going in the same direction. That can be challenging."
It's certainly not easy with a 90-man offseason roster, but the evidence the Packers succeeded in developing the desired locker room vibe was on display late in the fourth quarter of Saturday's preseason finale vs. Seattle.
It was the team's longest pass play of the preseason and put the offense in position to score the go-ahead points. The Packers' sideline erupted and celebrated with Bonds on the sideline as Green Bay did indeed take a 19-15 lead four snaps later.
Not long after, the Seahawks were trying to answer and had driven all the way to the Green Bay 12-yard line when undrafted rookie safety Benny Sapp III jumped an ill-advised throw over the middle, picking it off at the goal line to clinch the win with 13 seconds left. That set off an even bigger celebration, as teammates huddled around Sapp behind the Packers' bench.
All that excitement for two roster hopefuls who might be the victims of bad news in the coming days. But it still means something, both for those individuals and in the larger picture.
"I thought that was really cool," LaFleur said. "There's a respect there for how these guys work and show up on a daily basis and quite frankly, those guys have earned that respect by how they practice, by the teammates that they are. We've got a really good locker room."
That actually can make the roster decisions more difficult, as young players have their personal dreams as well as bonds and friendships interrupted. A small silver lining is some of the players released will be back on the practice squad.
Despite these tough few days for General Manager Brian Gutekunst and the personnel department, though, the importance of a tight locker room can't be overstated as the long grind through (at least) 17 games begins.
"I believe it since the day I got here – that is valued in this organization," LaFleur said. "I think Gutey and his staff do an unbelievable job of bringing in high-character people, and that makes a difference. It makes it easier when things do get tough, to be able to weather the storm a little bit and come out the other side."