Talent Meets Opportunity

A large contingent of newcomers heard opportunity knocking during Friday's rookie camp practice.

From first-round pick HaHa Clinton-Dix to the 28 players who are taking part in his team's rookie orientation camp on a tryout basis, Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy sees talent and opportunity.

As a team that has opened each of the past four seasons with at least three undrafted rookie free agents making the 53-man roster, McCarthy made it clear that young players like the ones participating in this camp are the team's lifeblood.

"This is a young man's league, and it has been for a number of years," McCarthy said, paraphrasing some of his message to the rookies from Thursday night's team meeting with them. "Like I told them, there's not a whole lot difference between some of these tryout players and the guys that are here and have been drafted or have already signed a free-agent contract."

Clinton-Dix, the No. 21 overall pick from Alabama, is expected to start at safety, a position of glaring need the past two seasons.

"It's like a dream come true. I'm here now. I'm ready to work," Clinton-Dix said. "As long as I keep my nose in this playbook and continue to learn hard and study, I think I'll be fine."

Asked about the first impression Clinton-Dix made Friday, McCarthy replied, "I think he's off to a good start."

Because the draft was pushed back this year, draft picks and undrafted free-agent signees actually arrived at Lambeau Field earlier this week and spent time in meetings and doing limited drill work with the veterans, who are in the individual position work portion of the offseason program. After two days of mingling with the established players on the roster, the new kids had their first rookies-only practice Friday and will do so again Saturday.

There are 58 players participating in the camp and McCarthy admitted that it's difficult for players to make a major splash.


Clinton-Dix goes through ball-security drills.
Mike McGinnis/Getty Images

"You want them to come in and have something jump out at you," McCarthy said. "It's not how many balls you catch, not how many completions you have, not how many balls you break up. You're looking for movement ability, you're looking for fit, you're looking for someone that has something special or something you feel can add to the football team."

The Packers added three players to their wide receiver corps during the draft - second-round pick Davante Adams from Fresno State, fifth-round pick Jared Abbrederis from Wisconsin and seventh-round pick Jeff Janis from Division II Saginaw Valley State. Abbrederis figures to be a fan favorite, having grown up 75 miles from Lambeau Field in tiny Wautoma, Wisconsin, and playing for the home-state Badgers.

"I'd rather have it this way," Abbrederis replied when asked if he might've been better off going to another team, where the attention wouldn't be as great. "I can just feel the support from everybody in Wisconsin."

The most noticeable name on the Packers' list of tryout players was ex-Oregon tight end Colt Lyerla, who left the Ducks program last fall and was later arrested for cocaine possession. He pleaded guilty to the offense last December.

Despite a dominant performance at the NFL combine in February - Lyerla's 4.59-second 40-yard dash was third-fastest among tight ends, and his vertical jump (39 inches) was the best at the position - he did not even receive an undrafted free agent offer.

The Packers have historically signed a handful of tryout players after the rookie camp ends, and Lyerla, playing a position of need, has a chance to earn that opportunity.

"He's done things in his college career, and (we're) fully aware of everything that every prospect's done on and off the field," McCarthy said. "And with that, we feel he's earned the opportunity as a tryout player to earn a spot to go to training camp. I'm excited to watch all these guys."


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