Mike Vandermause column: Most valuable rookie camp action takes place off-field

May 12, 2012

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Green Bay Packers rookie orientation practices this weekend essentially amount to a bunch of players running around the Don Hutson Center in what coach Mike McCarthy described as “underwear and helmets.”

There are eight draft choices, 14 undrafted free agents, eight holdover players from last season and 29 try-out wannabes wearing shorts and trying like crazy to make a favorable impression.

But not even the keenest football mind can say for sure which of these young players will shine on the football field come fall and which ones will be searching for a new line of work.

The point is, no one is going to win a permanent job this weekend. That will be determined over the next four months during weight room sessions, organized team activities, minicamp workouts, training camp practices and preseason games.

Most of the rookies, who arrived in town for the first time on Thursday, barely know each others’ names, let alone the intricacies of the playbook.

Assessing their skills based on a weekend’s worth of two-hand touch doesn’t mean much.

First-round pick Nick Perry possessed superior hand-eye coordination and ball skills during Friday’s practice, so does that mean he can play well in coverage and become the Packers’ missing outside linebacker piece opposite Clay Matthews?

Second-round pick Jerel Worthy had good burst off the ball, so can we assume he will provide the inside pass rush the Packers so desperately need?

Second-round pick Casey Hayward displayed explosive hips in coverage, so can we conclude the Packers no longer have depth issues at cornerback?

Seventh-round quarterback B.J. Coleman showed good arm strength, so is that an indication the heir apparent to Matt Flynn is on the roster?

Don’t trust anyone claiming to know the answers to these questions so early in the evaluation process.

Five years ago Justin Harrell looked pretty good in non-contact drills and gave no indication he would become a colossal bust.

On the other hand, Aaron Rodgers was viewed by some as no better than a third-string quarterback following the early off-season camps seven years ago. No one could have guessed the Packers had a future NFL MVP on their hands. Back then Rodgers was still learning the offense and finding his way.

The same can be said for most of the players in the Packers’ locker room this weekend.

The draft choices said all the right things about the franchise’s rich history and their pride in being part of a first-class organization. But all that talk won’t amount to a hill of beans on fall Sundays.

There is clearly a purpose to this weekend’s activity. If nothing else, it gives the coaches a good excuse to stop climbing the walls and get out of their Lambeau Field offices.

“This is a very exciting weekend,” said McCarthy. “It’s fun to be back on the field.”

The Packers haven’t hosted one of these meet-and-greet sessions since 2010 because of the NFL lockout last year.

There was no shortage of dropped passes, false starts and blown assignments on the practice field, but the miscues of May will be forgotten in the fall.

The most important part of this weekend occurs away from the practice field, whether it’s a team-bonding dinner, inspirational video or crash course in Packers history, finances and other aspects of pro football.

For most of the tryout participants, this will serve as a fantasy camp and be the only taste of NFL life they get.

For the legitimate NFL prospects, there will be ample time to prove themselves on the field. Now is not the time to make preliminary judgments or sketchy projections based on how players look in their underwear.

What's your take on the Packers Family Night change?

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Watching practice is fine.(Your vote)
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I don't want to pay to watch practice.(Your vote)
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It doesn't matter to me.(Your vote)
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Football fans

If you've ever answered "Who has the ball?" with "It's halftime," you might recognize The Airhead. Check out the characters in our cartoon gallery of oddball fans.

Special Reports