GREEN BAY — Brian Gutekunst made one thing clear Sunday evening: He likes the Green Bay Packers 53-man roster he’s put together.
Even if he didn’t get to see as much of it as he normally would, thanks to no on-field offseason practices, a truncated training camp and no preseason games amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
In less than a week, the Packers third-year general manager will find out just how good the crew he assembled is when the season kicks off.
“I didn’t realize I’d miss preseason games quite as much as I did,” Gutekunst confessed during a Zoom video call with reporters. “I don’t know if a lot of players will be happy to hear that, but for us scouts, on Friday mornings and Saturday mornings, when the new film comes in, we’re pretty eager to get on top of that and see how some of these young players are doing (on our team and) across the league. I certainly miss that and it’ll be good to get that back next year.
“Were they prepared for a real NFL season? Being able to go out there in a game-like situation? There’s just a little bit of unknown.
Here’s how the initial 53-man roster for the 2020 season breaks down, with several moves expected in the coming days in advance of the team’s regular-season opener against the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis next Sunday:
QB (3): Aaron Rodgers, Tim Boyle, Jordan Love.
Gutekunst wouldn’t flat-out say it Sunday, but Boyle will be Rodgers’ primary backup against the Vikings. While Love’s first-round draft status says everything that needs to be said about him being the future of the franchise, circumstances left Love well behind Boyle in terms of performance, Gutekunst insisted.
“Obviously Tim’s quite a bit further ahead of Jordan from knowing the offense, being in Year 2 of it, being in Year 3 of the NFL,” Gutekunst said. “Not having that foundation and then not having the preseason games to go through I think hurt all the young players. We feel really good about both our backup quarterbacks and feel they both have bright futures in the National Football League.”
RB (4): Aaron Jones, Jamaal Williams, AJ Dillon, Tyler Ervin.
There was some thought that Williams might be trade bait for a running back-needy team given the addition of Dillon, a second-round pick, and Ervin’s expanding utility role. Instead, it very well could be the team’s strongest position, and Rodgers was especially impressed by what Williams did throughout camp.
“I think he’s made the biggest leap,” Rodgers said. “He really has had a fantastic camp. And, Jamaal is such an energy guy for us. He brings so much to our team from that standpoint. … I’m really proud of Jamaal. He’s been a great leader for us, especially being in a room with a guy who had 19 rushing touchdowns last year (in Jones).”
WR (5): Davante Adams, Allen Lazard, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Equanimeous St. Brown, Malik Taylor.
Gutekunst opted for Taylor over former UW-Whitewater star Jake Kumerow, who played in 16 games last season (including playoffs) and caught 13 passes for 242 yards and a touchdown. Both head coach Matt LaFleur and Rodgers praised Kumerow up and down during SiriusXM NFL radio interviews over the weekend, which makes one wonder if Gutekunst and LaFleur saw the final receiver spot differently — even though Gutekunst said it wasn’t a “Malik-over-Jake type of situation.”
Asked Sunday about such differences of opinion in general, Gutekunst replied, “That happens all the time I think — between not only Matt and I, but there’s scouts in my room and other coaches. Everybody’s got a lot of opinions. Matt and I communicate every day and we work through that process. At the end of the day, we’re both just trying to do what’s best for the Green Bay Packers and what’s giving us the best chance to win.
“It’s tough when you’ve had multiple guys who have had great camps and you’ve got to pare it down. That’s not easy. But ultimately that’s my job and you’re always hoping that you’ve got the right 53 guys in there.”
TE (4): Marcedes Lewis, Robert Tonyan, Josiah Deguara, Jace Sternberger.
The Packers scouting department remains high on Sternberger, a third-round pick a year ago who worked mainly with the 2s and 3s in camp and. While he’ll still have a role, he has a lot to prove. The coaches gave Deguara a full plate of roles to learn in the offense and he appeared to handle it well. He could play a lot.
Asked Sunday if draft picks get the benefit of greater patience when they might not have a strong camp, Gutekunst replied, “Whenever you make investments in players, you obviously have done a lot of work on those players. So you’re not going to overreact to maybe a bad week here or there. The job is to put the best team together that has the best chance to win – not only immediately, but through the course of the season. And that’s really what it’s about. I do think the players you have more invested in, you’re not going to overreact. But this is about winning, and that’s all it’ll ever really be about.”
OL (9): David Bakhtiari, Corey Linsley, Lane Taylor, Billy Turner, Elgton Jenkins, Rick Wagner, Lucas Patrick, Yosh Nijman, Jon Runyan.
Gutekunst refused to discuss whether he was considering calling veteran Jared Veldheer, a savior at right tackle last season, in the wake of swing tackle Alex Light getting cut and placed on the practice squad. Nijman, at least for now, appears to be Bakhtiari’s backup while the coaches plan to exhaust all their options at right tackle with Turner hobbled by a knee injury – including shifting Jenkins, the starting left guard, out to tackle.
“We’re looking at every combination,” LaFleur said last week. “The goal is to always get your best five out there to give you the best chance to win. So, we’ll look at everything.”
DL (5): Kenny Clark, Dean Lowry, Kingsley Keke, Tyler Lancaster, Montravius Adams.
Clark, having earned a four-year, $70 million extension he signed on the first day of practice, leads a group that will rely on Keke, a fifth-round pick a year ago, to make a big jump and contribute extensively.
“You guys know me pretty well by now. I’m a stickler on the little things. So, he makes me really happy when he does things the right way,” defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery said of Keke. “And there’s days where he’s still trying to play backyard ball and not play within the system. And so those days, we just take a step back. But he’s done some really nice things at times.”
ILB (4): Christian Kirksey, Kamal Martin, Oren Burks, Ty Summers.
The Packers believe swapping out tackling machine Blake Martinez, who signed a three-year, $30 million free-agent deal with the New York Giants, for Kirksey, a comparatively inexpensive addition (two years, $13 million) who played just nine games over the past two seasons, makes this position significantly better.
“Christian had an excellent camp. The fun thing was just how quickly he got up to speed and started leading that defense,” Gutekunst said. “He’s obviously proven a lot in this league. He’s healthy, and I think he adds a little bit of dynamic ability that maybe we’ve been missing for a little while.”
Martin, meanwhile, is expected to miss 6-8 weeks after knee surgery so he’s set to move to injured reserve with the intention of bringing him back later in the year.
OLB (5): Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith, Rashan Gary, Randy Ramsey, Jonathan Garvin.
Ramsey, who spent last year on the practice squad, and Garvin, a rookie seventh-round pick, made it over Tim Williams, who ran with the No. 2 defense all camp long. Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine has talked openly about his plans to have the Smiths and Gary on the field at the same time, and Gary certainly flashed throughout camp. Ramsey and Garvin will compete to be active on game days.
“As you go through camp, there’s competition. And I think all three of our young guys really did a nice job and pushed each other and just got better and better,” Gutekunst said of Gary, Ramsey and Garvin. “That’s a pretty good room right now. We obviously have some really experienced players at the top, but we really like the young guys behind them. We just think that’s one of the strengths of our team.”
CB (6): Jaire Alexander, Kevin King, Chandon Sullivan, Josh Jackson, Ka’dar Hollman, Kabion Ento.
Ento’s spot on the roster is likely temporary, as he underwent foot surgery last week and is likely several weeks away from being able to play. He’ll likely move to injured reserve with the designation to return, like Martin.
The question here is whether Sullivan is ready to replace veteran Tramon Williams as the nickel back and if Jackson, after two disappointing seasons, will contribute.
“We’ve got a lot of guys, they may not be as experienced,” defensive backs coach Jerry Gray admitted. “But it’s my job to make sure they’re ready to go on Sundays to go along with those starting five guys.”
S (5): Adrian Amos, Darnell Savage, Raven Greene, Will Redmond, Vernon Scott.
Savage is poised for a breakout season in Year 2 after an ankle injury slowed his progress as a rookie, but the player to watch is Greene, who was slowed by an ankle injury for the second half of camp but remains an integral part of the defense as a hybrid safety/linebacker.
“To me, Raven is a good football player. He’ll be ready to go come Sunday,” Gray said. “My deal is he’s a smart guy, he understands what his role is on the team. (But) it’s our job to make sure that, I learned this a long time ago, don’t let one guy (getting hurt) take you out of your package. There’s other guys that are capable of playing that position.”
Special teams (3): Mason Crosby, JK Scott, Hunter Bradley.
Crosby and Bradley started camp on the COVID-19/reserve list, and Gutekunst said he has talked about the idea of carrying extra specialists on the practice squad to guard against them contracting COVID-19 again or Scott getting it for the first time, but for now, the Packers will just keep an eye on the free agents out there at each specialist spot.
“We certainly went through a lot of those conversations and continue to do so. That’s something we’re monitoring,” Gutekunst said. “We certainly have our emergency lists ready to go.”
Practice squad: LB Krys Barnes, WR Reggie Begelton, S Henry Black, RB Damarea Crockett, LB Tipa Galeai, C Jake Hanson, G Zack Johnson, T/G Alex Light, TE John Lovett, DL Willington Previlon, LB Greg Roberts, CB Stanford Samuels, DL Delontae Scott, WR Darrius Shepherd.
All 14 players were in camp with the Packers, which is not a surprise given the challenges of evaluating other teams’ talent with no preseason games. Meanwhile, AL.com reported that the Packers are adding ex-Alabama wide receiver Robert Foster, who was cut by the Buffalo Bills, and ex-Arkansas linebacker De’Jon “Scoota” Harris, who was cut by the New England Patriots, to the practice squad to fill the final two spots. Foster and Harris will have to go through COVID-19 testing protocols before they can enter Lambeau Field and get to work, however.
“It’s going to be a little tougher to get guys in here quickly. In years past, it’s been, get ‘em on a flight and the next day they’re at practice. This year, it’s not going to be that way,” Gutekunst said. “Depending on where you’re getting those players from, whether it’s two days, three days, it’s going be more than what it has been in the past. Which, I think will make most teams rely much more on their practice squads than they ever have.”
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