The Green Bay Packers are young and, their Super Bowl championship notwithstanding, come from humble roots.
Of the 53-man roster the team took onto the practice field on Sunday to begin preparations for Thursday’s marquee season-opening clash against New Orleans, 14 of the players weren’t drafted. In addition, 13 were drafted in the sixth or seventh rounds. That means 27 players – more than half of the roster – were relative afterthoughts for just about everybody that doesn’t work at 1265 Lombardi Ave.
By contrast, Green Bay has eight first-round picks among its 53 players, 11 second- and third-round choices, and seven fourth-and-fifth round choices. So, while first-round picks get all the hype, it’s the bottom of the roster that really is the key in building a team with the depth to win games in December and beyond.
The Packers won’t be the league’s youngest team – that information won’t be available until later this week -- but they’re not exactly a bunch of graybeards. There are 22 players who are 24 years old or younger and 25 who range between ages 25 and 28. That means a whopping 88.7 percent of the roster is 28 or younger. Three players are ages 29 to 32 and three others are at least 33.
Not surprisingly, that adds up to a roster with a minimal amount of experience. Ten rookies made the roster – seven draft picks and three undrafted rookies -- and an additional 18 players are entering their second or third seasons in the league. There are 13 players entering their fourth and fifth seasons, eight players with six to nine years of experience and just four players with 10-plus years in the league.
Green Bay drafted 34 of its 53 players. Perhaps surprisingly considering the number of players who ended the season on injured reserve and the number of players who filled those roster spots, only 41 of the 53 players on the roster played in a game for the Packers last season.
“I really like (the roster),” coach Mike McCarthy said after Sunday’s practice. “The focus was to pick the best 53 and we accomplished that. There’s more than 53 players, we felt, that had earned the opportunity to be on our team. It’s a tough position to be in. It’s a roster that we feel is going to put us in position to win every week.”
Practice squad set
The Packers focused on their offense while formulating their eight-man practice squad.
Seven of the players are on the offensive side of the ball, led by Graham Harrell and receivers Chastin West and Tori Gurley. The other players on the unit that was set on Sunday: guard/tackle Ray Dominguez, center Sampson Genus, running back Brandon Saine, receiver Diondre Borel and cornerback Brandian Ross.
“It was great to get our guys back,” McCarthy said. “It was a tough night for Ted (Thompson) and everybody involved. It’s great to get everybody back and practice today was very good. We didn’t have anybody new; everybody understood their role.”
The Packers won gambles by exposing Harrell, West and Gurley to waivers. Harrell will resume his role as their third quarterback while West and Gurley give the Packers some young talent in light of Donald Driver’s advancing age and Jordy Nelson’s impending free agency.
“It’s just numbers,” Harrell said. “I knew coming in that there was a good chance they’d only keep two. Obviously, I wanted to stay active but I’m excited to be here. It’s a great opportunity to learn and development.”
Short on linemen
-- Last season, the Packers went into the regular season with 10 offensive linemen on the roster. This year, they kept eight linemen in Saturday’s final cuts and didn’t add anyone on waivers. Moreover, because neither Dominguez nor Genus have looked even close to being ready to play in a game, the Packers have left themselves especially thin.
“It was part of the conversations we had,” McCarthy said. “This is the biggest challenge from a personnel breakdown, clearly, in Ted Thompson’s and my time here together. We talked about all those situations, pro and con. We picked the best 53 that we feel is going to give us the opportunity to meet the challenges we’re going to see every week.”
Two factors were at play. One, on most gamedays, McCarthy kept only seven linemen active. Secondly, none of the backup linemen stood out, as evidenced by the second- and third-unit struggles during the preseason.
-- The Saints used their first-round pick (No. 28 overall) on Alabama running back Mark Ingram, one of the players the Packers coveted with the 32nd overall pick.
“I think he has the ability to have a pretty significant role on our team as the season progresses,” quarterback Drew Brees said in his Sunday conference call. “He’s a really talented back and he’s got great instincts and he’s a pure runner. You watch him run and you say, ‘This guy’s born to be a running back’ with his body type and the way he approaches the game. He’s obviously a great addition to our backfield when you look at Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles. I think all of them have a unique role and yet all of them have the ability to be plugged in at any moment and can do some pretty great things.”
-- Packers coach Mike McCarthy and his Saints counterpart, Sean Payton, are part of the 10-coach Class of 2006. Only McCarthy and Payton have survived. Including playoffs, McCarthy is 53-34 and Payton is 53-33 – the difference being Payton’s 2-0 record against McCarthy (51-29 at New Orleans in 2008 and 34-27 at Lambeau Field in 2006). “Certainly, when you come in and you’re trying to get a program established, you recognize the challenges, you also recognize the short window,” Payton said in a conference call. “And Mike and Ted (Thompson) and the staff and the players there have done a great job with that, putting together a championship team. It’s hard to do. If it was easy, there’d be more people doing it. It’s very challenging, it’s a year-to-year deal.”
-- Per NFL rules, the Packers didn’t release an injury report on Sunday. Tight end Jermichael Finley (ankle), receivers James Jones (knee) and Randall Cobb (knee), and defensive end Mike Neal (knee) were back in action, with linebacker Frank Zombo (scapula), cornerback Davon House (ankle) and tight end Ryan Taylor (ankle) still out.
-- Cobb is listed as the No. 1 kickoff returner and punt returner, with Cobb apparently having passed fellow rookie Alex Green on kickoffs. “Yeah, definitely, I think I’m prepared to do (both),” Cobb said. “Whenever my number’s called, I expect to go out there – myself and my teammates – to handle my job.”
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.