Sutton Getting His Start In Green Bay

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As a youngster growing up in Akron, Ohio, Tyrell Sutton dared to be different.

Back when the NFL's Starter jackets were the big new apparel item, Sutton saw all kinds of friends sporting jackets of the Dallas Cowboys, San Francisco 49ers, and home-state Cleveland Browns.

So for Christmas one year, Sutton asked for a Starter jacket - of the Green Bay Packers.

"It's kind of ironic, but the first pro coat I ever had was the Green Bay jacket, and now the first team I'm getting a shot with is Green Bay," said Sutton, a rookie running back. "Back home, I was the only one who actually had that coat around there, so I definitely stood out."

As a non-drafted free agent out of Northwestern, Sutton has a goal of standing out in the upcoming training camp with the Packers. He has the proverbial tough road just to make the team, vying for a roster spot in a position group that has veteran Ryan Grant entrenched as the starter and experienced third-year pros Brandon Jackson and DeShawn Wynn looking to hold onto backup roles.

But every year there are one or two non-drafted surprises who make the final 53-man roster. In 2006, it was receiver Ruvell Martin and defensive end Jason Hunter. Then in 2007, it was cornerback Tramon Williams and defensive tackle Daniel Muir. Last year it was running back Kregg Lumpkin, with whom Sutton will be competing for backfield time this year.

If there's going to be a longshot entry on the final roster in 2009, Sutton wants to be that guy.

"I'll do everything I can, whether it's taking 80 reps or taking eight reps," he said. "You have to go out there and do the 'show' (or scout) teams, special teams. If that's what it takes for me to get out here and play, I'm all for it. I'm up for doing anything. I love this organization, so I'll do whatever it takes to be in it."

Which is why it was all the harder for Sutton to miss the first two weeks of organized team activities (OTAs) that began in late May. At Northwestern, classes were still in session, and NFL rules prohibit rookies who have not graduated from participating in OTAs until school is out.

But running backs coach Edgar Bennett said Sutton didn't show up as far behind as some might think. Having made a good first impression at the Packers' rookie orientation the first weekend of May (which players, regardless of school obligations, are allowed to attend), Sutton took copious notes during meetings and study sessions so he could keep his head "in the playbook," so to speak, while he couldn't practice.

"He's a bright kid, and he put in the extra work to get caught up on what we're asking him to do from a scheme standpoint," Bennett said during the team's recently concluded mini-camp. "He's done a good job as far as picking it up, taking it from the classroom to the field. We're asking a lot out of him, but he's doing well."

Sutton's instinctive running ability and quick feet caught the coaching staff's eye right away. After the first rookie orientation workout back on May 1, Head Coach Mike McCarthy said Sutton "jumped out" and had "a spring in his step," and those tools remained on display during the last two weeks of OTAs and the mini-camp last month.

"I feel like I'm catching up," Sutton said. "I'm getting acclimated to it in the actual playing atmosphere. You can read it as many times as you want, but you have to go out there and be able to perform it to actually get a grasp of it. I like to go out there and actually get my hands on it and do it."

Whether he can progress quickly enough to make up for his diminutive (by NFL standards) 5-foot-8 stature remains to be seen. Sutton said because of his height he's been pigeonholed in the past as a "scat back," but he believes his 213-pound frame packs some power as well. That's something he hopes to show in training camp when he puts pads on for the first time as an NFL player.

"As a running back, you get out there (in helmets and shorts) with those linebackers, and all the linebackers look like all-stars, because you can't really hit them," Sutton said. "Being a real football player, you want to put the pads on."

Sutton said the knocks on his size have served as motivation for as long as he can remember, whether he was winning the state of Ohio's Mr. Football Award as a senior in 2004 or racking up more than 3,000 rushing and receiving yards during his freshman and sophomore years at Northwestern.

Bennett emphasized that he doesn't place limitations on players because of their size or any other factors, and Sutton will be given his opportunity to prove he belongs in the NFL.

"The guy has heart and that has a lot to do with it," Bennett said. "I think he's going to jump out there and compete. He certainly has the attributes we look for in a football player, not just a running back.

"When we put those pads on, we're going to see a guy that, just because he's not a prototype height-wise, (doesn't mean) he isn't more than capable of going out there and being productive."

Sutton was hoping to be far more productive in his final two seasons at Northwestern, but injuries hampered those efforts. After the strong start to his college career, which included Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors in 2005 when he posted 1,474 rushing yards, 396 receiving yards and 18 touchdowns, injuries to his lower leg in 2007 and wrist in 2008 forced him to miss significant chunks of both his final two years. Other nagging ailments seemed to crop up here and there as well.

{sportsad300}Getting tagged "injury-prone" likely contributed to getting passed over in all seven rounds of April's draft, but like the size question, Sutton prefers to use the injury issue as a means to prove people wrong about him.

"The two years that really matter, when you actually can go into the league -- your junior and senior year, when they actually look at you -- I did have injuries, so I guess you get that label of being injury-prone," he said. "But it's just a label. Labels change.

"The only injuries I had were the two serious ones when I could not play. The other stuff, the shoulder and ankle, I played through all those. Anybody who's ever known me has said I've always played through injuries."

Come training camp, the odds might be long for Sutton, but that won't bother him. He didn't mind being the only pre-teen in Akron wearing a Packers jacket, and he won't mind being a 5-8 running back no one drafted standing in an NFL huddle by summer's end.

"I have to make sure go out here and impress the coaches, make sure I'm going out there 110 percent, giving it full tilt and let everybody know I want to be here," he said. "I'll just let my game speak for itself. I'm not a big talker. I don't talk much about what I did in the past. I'm all about right here, right now, and what I can do for the Packers."

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