Packers’ 2015 draft class gets its feet wet in rookie orientation

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Top two defensive backs, third-round WR-return specialist draw attention
For the first time since the 1992 NFL Draft the Green Bay Packers didn’t select an offensive or defensive lineman in the first five rounds. That says a lot about how Packers GM Ted Thompson and head coach Mike McCarthy feel about their depth in the trenches. It also suggests a belief that the Packers are only a few pieces away from a championship.
Bad teams are forever searching for quarterbacks, pass-rush specialists and offensive and defensive linemen in the draft. The Packers selected a centerfielder-turned-defensive back, a point guard-turned-cornerback and a receiver whose impact will be as a return specialist and a weapon out of the backfield.
Damarious Randall, Quinten Rollins and Ty Montgomery bring the athleticism and enthusiasm that comes with youthful talent. They also bring a level of maturity and football passion that can’t be discounted.
Jake Ryan, the linebacker from Michigan, and Brett Hundley, the UCLA quarterback, also share those qualities. It doesn’t mean that the Packers’ Class of 2015 is going to be exceptional, but it does indicate a theme – one that has been discussed here before – known as Packer People.
It doesn’t mean these are choir boys. It means they share a love of football with a respect for the opportunity before them.
A cynic would say that guarantees next to nothing in terms of predicting their on-field success at the NFL level. A realist would counter by saying that maturity, especially if it’s born out of adversity, is a terrific indicator that:

  • The player isn’t a quitter, and that he believes no challenge is too great. The switch from baseball to football for Randall, and basketball to football for Rollins, suggests a very tangible mental toughness. It also takes a special athlete to succeed while not “specializing.”
  • Ryan, who recovered from a torn ACL as a junior, came back with a vengeance. The fact is players who possess a genuine passion for the game will do all they can to return from an injury. That’s big.
  • Life experiences breed maturity and the Packers’ top five picks all have had their share of ups and downs. Now it is time for them to capitalize on the chance to be a very good player for the Packers.
  • The Packers already have a pretty good idea of who the new players are. The rookies need to show them what they’re all about.
  • “The notice part is over,” McCarthy said. “I told everyone Thursday night you’re here for a reason. Challenge for a roster spot. A lot of these guys, it’s been really impressive. You have to go into this with an open mind; stick to your philosophy.”
  • The rookies, undrafted free agents and returning first-year players impressed McCarthy with their athleticism and high energy. “The two practices, today (Saturday) was definitely a step up from yesterday. I was very pleased with the quality of it. It’s been an excellent two days. The energy is tremendous.”

Returning players such as linebackers Joe Thomas and Adrian Hubbard caught McCarthy’s attention with their comeback from injury and work ethic. Both should contend for roster spots.
While the rookie practice is interesting, it isn’t as revealing as the beginning of training camp. Once the pads come on it’s a lot easier to see who can’t play. It doesn’t take long to get exposed. In turn, it doesn’t take long to see which players “flash” and catch the coaching staffs’ eye. After that, the good ones find a way to keep them watching.
It all makes for an interesting lead-up to training camp. The  Packers appear ready to smooth out the wrinkles, define roles for players and be ready to hit it running come late July.
Between now and then fans simply have to be patient, stay tuned for the latest news and pray that none of it involves injuries.
Chris Havel is a national best-selling author and his latest book is Lombardi: An Illustrated Life. Havel can be heard Monday through Friday from 4-6 p.m. CDT on WDUZ FM 107.5 The Fan, or on AM-1400, as well as Fan Internet Radio ( Havel also hosts Event USA’ MVP Parties the evening before home games.