The Green Bay Packers will allocate 12 players to participate in NFL Europe this spring, including 2003 roster players Erwin Swiney and Derek Combs and seventh-round draft pick Steve Josue, Director of Pro Personnel Reggie McKenzie said Monday.
Other players headed to the NFL's developmental league are practice squad player Jason Jimenez, 2003 training camp invitees Tony Donald, Cullen Jenkins and Eric Powell, as well as recent signees Kris Briggs, Corey Parchman, Wilson Thomas, Ralph Turner and Walter Williams.
NFL Europe, which features a 10-game regular season running from April 3 to June 6, provides younger players a chance to get valuable on-field experience while giving NFL teams additional evaluation time.
"If potential NFL Europe players have good strength and weight training and no injuries to rehab, we like to send them overseas," McKenzie said. "Most of these guys haven't played a lot since their college days, and many of them are learning new positions.
"If they're lucky enough to have game reps in the NFL, they're usually just from the preseason. NFL Europe gives them a chance to get a whole lot more competitive game reps."
Originally called the World League, NFL Europe has been under operation since 1991. NFL teams receive preseason roster exemptions for players who participate in the six-team league.
Over the years, Pro Bowl guard Marco Rivera, backup quarterbacks Doug Pederson and Craig Nall and linebacker Paris Lenon are among the Packers to benefit from time in the NFLEL.
"The talent is closer to NFL than college," McKenzie said. "You're talking about guys who last year were on the 45- or 53-man roster and are going to be again next season.
"I think there's a lot better talent in those NFL-E games than there is in some of the fourth quarters of the NFL preseason games. So we'd rather watch players in NFL Europe, where they get a full season of learning a game plan and taking it to the field rather than just practicing here and getting a few fourth quarters in the preseason."
Up and down from the 53-man roster and the practice squad, Swiney is the player with the most Packers experience to go overseas this spring.
Originally signed as an undrafted free agent out of Nebraska, the 6-foot, 192-pound cornerback saw action as a sub in three games as a rookie in 2002 and six games in 2003, making three tackles and earning 1 pass defensed.
Combs also earned 2003 game experience, playing in eight games and notching six special teams tackles. A running back and receiver at Ohio State, the converted cornerback played in NFLEL in 2002 with the Amsterdam Admirals as a member of the Oakland Raiders.
"He's got the speed to be an NFL player, so it's all about experience at corner for him," McKenzie said of Combs.
Josue, the Packers' fourth of four seventh-round picks in the 2003 NFL Draft, is another player with outstanding physical tools in need of on-field experience.
Predominantly a pass-rusher at Carson-Newman, the 6-foot-2, 222-pound Josue spent his rookie season on the Packers' practice squad at linebacker.
"We think he has a ton of talent," McKenzie said. "He can improve a lot over in NFL Europe. Over here he's just been running scout team, but now he'll get to take a game plan to the field and really show what he can do. He should grow a ton."
Like Josue, Jimenez spent the season on the practice squad. Standing 6-foot-7 and weighing 310 pounds, only fellow tackle Brennan Curtin is taller than Jimenez at 6-foot-9.
Donald, Jenkins and Powell are all players the Packers coaching staff liked in training camp, but are thin on experience.
Donald (6-3, 245) was a safety at Western State (Colo.) and came out of the draft as a linebacker, but the Packers want to see him play tight end. Jenkins (6-3, 292) was predominantly a defensive end at Central Michigan, but the Packers also want to see what he can do at defensive tackle. Powell (6-3, 268) is a defensive end out of Florida State.
"The defensive coaches liked Jenkins a lot in training camp, but we just didn't have a spot for him," McKenzie said. "Powell is another guy like that. He has a lot of raw ability and can flat out run."
The remaining Packers allocations for NFLEL include four offensive players.
McKenzie called Briggs (5-11, 234) a "tweener" the Packers hope can play fullback, while also offering depth at the running back position. Williams (6-0, 206) is a running back prospect who played wide receiver at Grambling State.
Parchman (5-10, 191) and Thomas (6-5, 207) will get a chance to prove themselves at wide receiver.
Turner (6-1, 283) will attempt to make the transition from college safety at Purdue to NFL linebacker.
"With all of these guys, we just hope they emerge," McKenzie said. "Some step up and show a whole lot more than you even saw in the first place and you think, man, he's really going to help us this year. Some guys take a step backward -- an offensive lineman who can't stop NFL-E defensive ends or a cornerback who can't cover NFL-E receivers. So it's an eye-opener either way."
NFL Europe training camps will open February 27. The NFLEL season begins April 3, leading up to World Bowl XII, June 12.