GREEN BAY — Joey Mbu’s timing might not have been ideal – not with the depth the Green Bay Packers have on their defensive line at the moment, and not with his arrival coming a scant few days before the team’s offseason program ended.
But at least the young defensive tackle finally made it to the Packers, a team that had been interested in him for the better part of two years.
“At least I had (a few) days to get into learning the playbook,” Mbu said with a chuckle after being signed on June 11 – and participating in the three-day minicamp that wrapped up the offseason program three days later. “Some people don’t even get a call until the third week of the preseason. I had a chance to learn – even something small – to take me through the summer and get ready for training camp.”
Players aren’t allowed to take their iPad playbooks with them during the intervening weeks between the end of the offseason program and the start of training camp, which kicks off July 26 with the first of 15 open practices. But Mbu scribbled down as many tidbits as he could in his trusty notebook and took those insights home with him to Houston.
“I take good notes and try to write down all the little stuff that you can pick up during meetings,” Mbu said.
Also noteworthy: The Packers first showed interest in Mbu before the 2015 NFL Draft. The 6-foot-3, 313-pound Mbu had caught the Packers’ eye during his college career at the University of Houston, where in 50 career games (38 starts) he had 92 tackles, four sacks, eight pass breakups and two interceptions.
While he went undrafted, he signed with Atlanta as a free agent and spent most of the 2015 season on the Falcons’ practice squad before a brief two-game call-up to the 53-man roster at the end of the year.
When Mbu was cut by the Falcons on the final roster reduction at the end of camp in 2016, the Packers flew him in for a workout but didn’t sign him right away. He wound up getting a practice-squad offer from the Washington Redskins that October and spent the rest of the year there.
Last year, he split the season between the Indianapolis Colts’ practice squad and 53-man roster, seeing action in seven regular-season games. And when the Colts let him go on May 1, the Packers again reached out. When a roster spot came open a month later, Mbu was finally a Packer.
“It was kind of like, ‘They’re bringing me in twice. Maybe they really are interested,’” Mbu said. “It was cool to see them call again. I did something that they liked in the workout, so I’m here.”
How long he’ll be here – and what it’ll take for him to stick around – is hard to say. There’s no deeper position on the Packers’ roster right now than the defensive line, where the team added former Pro Bowl defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson (a former pupil of new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine with the New York Jets) to a group that includes Pro Bowler Mike Daniels, ascending 2016 first-round pick Kenny Clark, developing defensive end Dean Lowry and 2017 third-round pick Montravius Adams.
The Packers also picked California defensive tackle James Looney in the seventh round of the NFL Draft and signed a pair of defensive linemen (Northwestern’s Tyler Lancaster and ex-University of Wisconsin standout Conor Sheehy) after the draft.
“I think the group – in general – I’m excited about,” defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery said. “Obviously it’s been good in the past. I look forward to what we can do on the field. With the new scheme and the new tweaks and adjustments, we have more freedom in there on certain calls – which is nice, instead of being a robot per se. It should be fun.”
But if there’s one thing Mbu has learned through his NFL travails thusfar, it’s not to worry about depth charts and his odds.
“You start thinking too much, you get into your head. I’ve learned how to not do that over the years,” Mbu said. “I’m going to take it play by play, man. I don’t try to look into the future. You can’t control that.”