By Chris Havel
Special to Event USA
GREEN BAY, Wis. – The route to the Packers’ rookie orientation weekend is a two-way street.
Packers’ sense of urgency needs to be instilled in draft picks, UFAs at outset
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On one side, it’s the players meeting Green Bay head on.
On the other side, it’s the fans watching, analyzing and critiquing the newest prospective Packers.
It’s the start of an emotional ride for both.
It’s an opportunity for expectant Packers’ fans to begin appraising the newest players. Typically, the fans’ hopes and the rookie class’s reality intersect in early August. That’s when it becomes clearer who can play and who cannot.
Likewise, it’s an opportunity for wide-eyed rookies – those drafted and undrafted alike – to begin acclimating themselves to Green Bay. That’s on and off the field.
Where to shop? Where to eat? Where to live?
The Packers’ organization does a terrific job easing the transition from college student-athlete to young professional football player. Orientation weekend is the kickoff.
Meantime, the football side at 1265 Lombardi Ave. begins the players’ indoctrination into the Packers’ culture. Everything from “Arrow” routes to “Zebra” personnel is covered.
The players are transformed from a collection of college football players into full-fledged (for now) members of the Packers.
Packers’ head coach Mike McCarthy embraces the process.
Rookie orientation appears to be among his favorite steps along the way to a 53-man roster and the regular-season opener.
“You’ve got every young man sitting on the edge of their seat,” McCarthy told reporters Friday. “This is a great opportunity for these guys, and they realize it.”
It’s a great individual opportunity, to be sure.
But it has to be more than that.
It has to be an understanding of the Packers’ situation.
The rookies need to realize that Green Bay desperately needs an infusion of young talent. Guess what? They’re it.
The Packers were 7-9 and floundered without their star quarterback, Aaron Rodgers. They weren’t nearly good enough in many areas, and not just those addressed in the draft.
The success of this rookie class matters.
The Packers’ fortunes are reliant upon several givens.
** No. 1 – Rodgers needs to continue to be the dominant quarterback in the NFC, if not the NFL. His complete return from a broken collarbone is as critical as it is obvious.
** No. 2 – Clay Matthews, Nick Perry and a third pass rusher to be identified (Reggie Gilbert, perhaps?) need to step up. If Matthews and/or Perry underperform I can’t imagine Green Bay’s defense playing at a championship level.
Exacting every ounce of talent from these two is among new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s most crucial tasks.
** No. 3 – The returning players need to show improvement, especially players such as defensive lineman Montravius Adams, who did next to nothing in an injury-plagued year.
Vince Biegel is in a similar position.
Gilbert has drawn early raves from the Packers’ coaches, but until he’s able to generate pressure in a game I’m dubious.
** No. 4 – This is where the rookies and undrafted free agents come into the picture. They need to realize that they’re not just trying to win a job. They’re trying to work to build a winner.
Jaire Alexander, Josh Jackson and Oren Burks all join a defense that badly needs their talents to succeed. Naturally, there will be rookie struggles and all of that, but let’s be real here.
The Packers need at least ONE of their top two picks to contribute significantly. They also need contributions from at least ONE of the three receivers they selected.
And in the name of true depth, unlike last season, the Packers’ bottom third of the roster needs to be better prepared to play.
That preparation began with rookie orientation weekend.
At the risk of sounding melodramatic, it’s important that the rookies see themselves in the big picture.
“Every man that steps on that field (Friday) has an opportunity to be a part of our 90-man roster,” McCarthy said. “That’s how we approach it. We coach them all the same. The draft picks will probably be first in line, we clearly understand that, but this is a very important two days.”
McCarthy expressed respect for the “tryout” players. That means giving them each and every chance to make the team through a thorough, legitimate evaluation process.
“There are going to be tryout players you’ll look at and not know the difference (between drafted players),” McCarthy said. “That’s the norm. Everyone has a story, a different vehicle for why they’re here. Every one of those men has earned the opportunity to be in that room, so it’s important to take a close, hard look.”
Let the scrutiny begin.