Packer rookies expect to contribute
Can Nick Perry convert to outside linebacker? Is Jerel Worthy ready to start? How will Casey Hayward affect the secondary as a whole?
But starting today, all of the Green Bay Packers rookies begin their pro careers. Rookie orientation camp runs today through Sunday. More than anything, it's a chance for players to get familiar with coaches and each other. Remember, last year a lockout robbed rookies of this crash course.
The Packers' 2012 batch of draft picks, free agents and tryout participants all have the luxury of picking up offensive and defensive schemes at a normal pace. Practice begins at 4 p.m. today inside the Don Hutson Center and is closed to the public. Whether or not they've inked deals, all rookies can participate. Per one league source, Worthy and the Packers reached an agreement. Agent Abu Toppin also confirmed that safety Jerron McMillian has signed.
Surely, coaches will be working closely with the defensive players expected to improve a unit that finished 32nd in the NFL overall and 27th in sacks. USC's Perry, Michigan State's Worthy and Vanderbilt's Hayward are at the forefront. This trio drafted in the first two rounds could all see the field soon.
Perry, a defensive end in college, will begin his transition to outside linebacker. Opposite Clay Matthews, the Packers lacked pressure all last season. Perry has admitted apprehension about the position switch but has also maintained he'd do whatever asked. That coaching begins now.
After the Packers drafted him, Perry didn't lack confidence in his pass-rushing ability. That "juice," as general manager Ted Thompson calls it, will be essential is waking up the pass rush.
"I have the raw skills and the mind to do it," Perry said. "I think I have a lot to bring to the table. There's a lot of potential that needs to be taken out of me. I'm going to Green Bay, to a great tradition that's going to help me improve my game and become a better player for years to come."
When the 6-foot-2 1/2, 305-pound Worthy slipped into the middle of the second round, Thompson acted fast. The GM dealt up eight slots to take the explosive defensive tackle. In the pros, the Packers see Worthy as a defensive end in their 3-4 scheme and an interior rusher in nickel.
Just as the Packers were unable to solidify right outside linebacker in 2011, they also never adequately replaced Cullen Jenkins. The morning after Green Bay's stunning playoff loss to the New York Giants, several players on defense admitted the loss of Jenkins had a major effect on the defense as a whole.
Worthy is shorter than most 3-4 defensive ends in the pros, but here in Green Bay, he'll have an opportunity to play right away.
"What I have to do is just study the scheme of the Green Bay Packers and how they want the techniques and things like that played up front," Worthy said. "I'm just going to go in the lab. I'm going to continuously work to perfect my techniques and perfect myself as a player. I'm going to develop into the person that Dom Capers saw and the person that he wants me to be. And I'm going to make him proud. I'm going to come in and make some plays."
And Hayward could potentially be a wild card in Green Bay's defense. His maturation is key.
The cornerback from Vanderbilt may allow the Packers to slide Pro Bowler Charles Woodson back to safety. It's very early. But after the release of three-time Pro Bowl safety Nick Collins, Green Bay will keep its options open. Hayward was renowned for a high football IQ in college, where he had 15 interceptions and 31 pass break-ups.
Following Sam Shields' subpar season, Hayward should compete immediately.
"He has that weird kind of smart where he has that savvy and instinct where he can just see things as they develop on the football field and put himself in a position to be successful," said Bob Shoop, Hayward's defensive coordinator at Vanderbilt. "That was really neat. Trust me when I tell you this, that wasn't him being coached. That guy has the ‘it' factor."
And beyond this trio, there's plenty more to watch. Maybe McMillian is able to win the safety job outright come August. Seventh-round pick B.J. Coleman begins his work with Mike McCarthy, offensive coordinator Tom Clements and quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo for the first time. He'll try to compete for a backup spot behind Aaron Rodgers. And in light of Anthony Hargrove's eight-game suspension, Iowa's Mike Daniels has a chance to fight for a role.
After this weekend's three-day rookie camp, the Packers have a week off before organized team activities kick off.
PACKER STATEWIDE TAILGATE PARTIES
The tailgate parties will be from 6 to 8:30 in each city, and tickets cost $30:
La Crosse: Tuesday. Oktoberfest Southside Fest-grounds. To benefit the Children of the Heart. Tickets on sale at Festival Foods locations at 1260 Crossing Meadows drive, Onalaska, and 2500 State Road, La Crosse, in the Village Shopping Center.
Madison: Wednesday. Alliant Center. To benefit the Ronald McDonald House Charities. Tickets on sale through www.TicketWeb.com, TicketMaster or by calling (866) 777-8932.
Kenosha: Thursday. Boys & Girls Club of Kenosha. To benefit Boys & Girls Club of Kenosha. Tickets on sale at Boys & Girls Club of Kenosha, 1330 52nd St.
Cedarburg/Grafton: Next Friday. Grafton High School. To benefit Portal, Inc. Tickets on sale at Portal, Inc., 1015 Cedar Creek Road, Grafton, with information at www.portalinc.org.
Sturgeon Bay: May 19. Sunset Park. To benefit Habitat for Humanity. Tickets on sale at Marchant's Foods, County Highway DK, Brussels; Main Street Market, 7770 State Road 42, Egg Harbor; Pick 'n Save, 1847 Egg Harbor Road, Sturgeon Bay; and Door County Habitat for Humanity, 410 N. 14th Ave., Sturgeon Bay.