GREEN BAY – Signs were pointing toward safety Raven Greene and receiver Equanimeous St. Brown doing some big things for the Packers in their second NFL seasons.
Difficult ankle injuries got in the way for both players, and now the goal is to resume their promising young careers in Year 3 with the interruptions of 2019 behind them.
Greene had made his way into the starting lineup on defense, playing a hybrid linebacker role in Week 1 at Chicago, and performing admirably. But the ankle injury hit the following week and he never got back on the field.
The setback altered not only Greene's trajectory, but defensive coordinator Mike Pettine's plans for his unit, as nobody else fit the hybrid spot quite as well as the 5-11, 200-plus pound Greene.
"He was going to be a big part of what we were doing," Pettine said. "His explosiveness was something that we missed, and we're looking forward to being able to take advantage of it this year, and he looks good.
"He's smart, he's tough, he's always been able to pick up stuff very quickly and we're certainly expecting big things of Raven this year."
Undrafted in 2018 from James Madison, where he set a school record with 14 interceptions, the in-the-box hybrid spot was new to Greene, but he took to it quickly. He's also playing plenty of deep safety in this year's training camp, willing to do anything he's asked. He feels learning multiple spots just helps him understand the defensive scheme better as a whole.
Whatever role he settles into this year, Greene remains confident he can be reliable and impactful. After he played mostly on special teams as a rookie, acquitting himself well in full-time duty at Soldier Field last September was a significant, if unfortunately brief, step forward.
"I feel like I kind of got my first taste – a really small sample size," said Greene, who was re-activated off injured reserve last January for the NFC title game, but was a game-day inactive. "Being able to figure out that I really have a good chance of making an impact as long as I can stay out there."
He recorded six tackles in that game and broke up a pass in the end zone in the fourth quarter. New defensive backs coach Jerry Gray noted after watching the film, Greene impressed him with his ability to cover running backs coming out of the backfield.
While Greene has become a workout warrior over the last couple of years, bulking up from his listed weight of 197 – he posted a Twitter video power-cleaning 345 pounds – he doesn't feel he's sacrificed any centerfield speed in building a different body from his college days to line up closer to the line of scrimmage when called upon.
"I feel like I've played a decent bit of true safety and that's what I'm categorized as on the roster," he said. "Versatility – wherever they want to put me, they can. So I'm just making sure my skill set is exactly where it needs to be."
St. Brown has the same mentality as he re-enters the competition at wide receiver, which is very similar to last year's. The former Notre Dame standout and sixth-round pick in 2018 was having a solid camp one summer ago when he hurt his ankle in the third preseason game in Winnipeg.
It eventually required surgery and prevented him from ever being on the active roster in 2019, his first season without football he can remember. After finishing his rookie year on the upswing, with three catches for 53 yards in a November game at Minnesota and then five grabs for 94 yards in December at New York, St. Brown didn't get to build on what he'd done.
"Personally I was very disappointed," he said. "There were a few times where I got down, but I picked myself up pretty quick. I wasn't too negative about it. I know I have a long career ahead of me, and I'm pretty young."
It took the 6-5, 214-pound receiver until midway through this past offseason to feel full-go health-wise again, and he used the pandemic-restricted time to work out with his younger brothers and catch passes from former Packers and Fighting Irish teammate DeShone Kizer.
He feels good about his knowledge of the offense, which is no surprise to Head Coach Matt LaFleur, who believes in this comeback year it's just a matter of him getting the physical reps because he missed so much time.
"EQ is extremely intelligent," LaFleur said. "I have a lot of confidence in not only his ability but his mind."
St. Brown appears confident as well, making his share of plays in the early stages of camp in the ongoing receiver competition with Allen Lazard, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Jake Kumerow, Darrius Shepherd, Reggie Begelton and others. Roster spots and roles are still to be determined.
"We didn't draft any wideouts so I think as a unit we need to step up," St. Brown said. "There's a lot of eyes on us.
"I just want to focus in and show the coaches and staff that I'm healthy and I can run and I know my playbook."