GREEN BAY – There was a time not long ago when Kenny Clark, Dean Lowry and Kyle Murphy might have been completely in the dark during this week’s minicamp.
Three of the Packers’ seven draft picks missed the past month of the team’s offseason program because their colleges were still in session. According to league rules, rookies cannot report to the team unless they’ve graduated or classes have ended.
Since UCLA (Clark), Northwestern (Lowry) and Stanford (Murphy) run on the quarter system, the three rookies had to stay away until this week.
Not all was lost, though. Thanks to the wonders of technology, all three were able to stay on top of the Packers’ installations and practices through their tablets and conversations with their position coaches.
Clark and Lowry, both defensive linemen, actually did most of their work together on conference calls and Skype conversations with line coach Mike Trgovac.
Both could tell the difference it made when they stepped onto Ray Nitschke Field for their first practice since last month’s rookie orientation.
“It helped us just because some of the mistakes that the guys made on the practice field,” said Clark, the Packers’ first-round pick.
“He would show us those plays and he would tell us, ‘You can’t make those mistakes when you come here.’ He’d go over every little detail that we needed to know. I think it played a huge part in helping us learn the playbook and getting us on track.”
In more than 20 years of coaching in the NFL, Trgovac doesn’t remember having any rookies absent due to the quarter system (three years ago, Datone Jones already had graduated from UCLA). Coincidentally, he had two this spring.
Besides trying to get everyone’s schedule to line up, the communication was rather easy amongst all parties and gave the two defensive linemen the proper insight to pick up the playbook and perform individual workouts on their own.
While Clark trained at the Bruins’ facilities, Lowry was balancing his final three classes with the long-distance orientation to his new job. He’ll actually graduate this weekend with an economics degree.
Along with staying current on the team, the phone calls helped Clark and Lowry to get to know each other better. It was an extra benefit for two rookies who could be playing on the same defensive line together for years to come.
“We’re roommates at the hotel, so we live together right now,” said Lowry, a fourth-round pick. “He’s definitely a great football mind and a great technician, so I think we really help each other. We watch film together at the hotel and go over the signals and stuff like that. It’s really helpful having him along in the process.”
All three had access to their playbooks and film when talking with their coaches. The league permits contact between coaches and players three times per week and no more than two hours between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. local time.
Stepping on the field for the first time during Tuesday’s minicamp practice, players and coaches believed the unorthodox cram sessions made a difference in their preparation.
“You could tell it wasn’t as big a setback that they weren’t here and I wasn’t allowed to have any contact with them,” Trgovac said. “You can tell they studied their playbook, and the sessions that we had with them paid off because they did a nice job assignment-wise.”
Murphy is three classes short of getting his degree, whereas Stanford teammate Blake Martinez already had graduated when the Packers drafted him in the fourth round.
Like Trgovac, this was the first time Packers offensive line coach James Campen can recall having a player return to school following rookie orientation.
That never was more evident than the first time Campen tried to talk with Murphy through Skype, a video chat and voice service. A few technical difficulties ensued.
“He kind of had some issues,” Murphy smiled. “It took him a solid hour to figure out how to share the screen. Then, he couldn’t figure out how to see myself while he shared the screen.”
Added Campen: “Him being from Stanford and having all the answers, and here’s an O-line ball coach in an office, he helped me through getting the buttons right.”
The two eventually figured it out. Campen and assistant line coach David Raih then alternated talking with Murphy every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
“It was a good experience,” Campen said. “He could see what I was seeing and ask questions (about) practice and the playbook. You try to get it as close as you can. Obviously, being here is the best, but that’s the way we had to do that for a while.”
Certain aspects of the job still require on-field attention. This week is all about getting the rookies comfortable with what’s asked of them before training camp begins next month.
Still, the three rookies didn’t feel out of place in their first practice with veterans.
“You can only learn so much through reading. I like to talk through things,” said Murphy, a sixth-round draft choice. “If you have questions, just reading a list (of plays) sometimes gets a little monotonous. That was a huge advantage or else I would have been way far behind right now, so I’m grateful for that, without a doubt.”