GREEN BAY – There may have been no better story in the Packers' 2023 NFL Draft class than Grant DuBose.
The 6-foot-2, 201-pound receiver split his college career between Division II Miles College (Ala.) and Charlotte, while also picking up three jobs after the COVID-19 pandemic cancelled his sophomore season in 2020.
DuBose launched onto the NFL radar after catching 126 passes for 1,684 yards and 15 touchdowns in two seasons at Charlotte and became the 13th and final member of Green Bay's draft class (seventh round, 256th overall).
And then everything stopped.
As soon as DuBose got his foot in the NFL doorway, a back injury sidelined him for the first three months in Green Bay. DuBose wasn't even cleared to practice during the rookie minicamp the week after the draft.
Finally, on Aug. 7, DuBose was given the green light to practice for the first time with his new team and the 22-year-old wideout has been relentless in his pursuit to prove himself during the final stretch of training camp.
"A lot of these guys, they've gotten reps since rookie minicamp. I've been practicing for a week and a half now at the NFL level," DuBose said. "Of course, I do feel like I'm behind, physically. Mentally, I feel like I'm right along with the rest of them in the playbook."
It was an undeniably tough spot for a late-round pick to be in, especially considering the returning depth at the position and the multitude of young wideouts who have made plays throughout training camp.
To keep up, DuBose mastered the art of taking mental reps. He stayed locked in during practice and in the classroom, working closely with position coach Jason Vrable and coaching assistant Quinshon Odom.
DuBose's goal was "to develop a plan to win." He didn't just want to know the playbook and his assignment within the call. DuBose wanted to have his assignment down cold, so he could adjust to pre-snap audibles.
Since returning to practice, DuBose has jumped right in with the rest of the offense in 11-on-11 periods and continued to rack up catches.
"That's a big-time credit to him, just putting in the time," Head Coach Matt LaFleur said. "It's hard sometimes when you're not in the action to take the mental reps. It takes a lot of focus and a lot of concentration, and quite frankly it takes somebody that's a pretty mature player, to be able to handle that.
"It's been cool to watch him grow in this short period of time and he's got another week to go out there and do it."
DuBose carried that momentum through into Saturday's preseason game against New England. In the second quarter, he showed a lot of moxie in bringing down a 21-yard pass from quarterback Sean Clifford while absorbing a big hit from Patriots' third-year safety Joshuah Bledsoe.
DuBose laughed while admitting he was feeling that hit after the game, but it was an important barrier for him to cross in his return from injury. More than anything, it felt good just to play again.
"I felt like I was long overdue for it," said DuBose of his catch. "Going out seeing all the guys competing and being sidelined for that length of time that I was, I feel like I got a chance to go out there and compete. I feel like I did some pretty good things. It felt good being out there amongst all our fans; being out there playing for the first time. I enjoyed it."
It'll be a sprint to the finish for all the young wideouts behind Christian Watson, Romeo Doubs, and rookie second-round pick Jayden Reed, who caught a 19-yard touchdown from Jordan Love against the Patriots.
The competition is tight. Second-year receiver Samori Toure has demonstrated his versatility, rookie fifth-round pick Dontayvion Wicks has made some plays, and impressive undrafted rookie Malik Heath currently leads Green Bay with eight catches for 111 yards in the preseason.
DuBose believes he has something to offer to the Packers' offense, as well. While he may be making up for lost time, the rookie's sole focus is on maximizing whatever opportunities come this final week of training camp.
"Of course, that's in the back of your head but coming out to these games, don't let it get too big for you," DuBose said. "It's just football. You're just playing at a high level now. Just do the same things you've been doing to get you to this level. I knew I had the ability, so it was just about coming out here and showcasing it."