GREEN BAY - As the Green Bay Packers concluded their exhibition season with a 24-10 victory over the Los Angeles Rams, players on both teams were reminded that training camp is a marathon and not a sprint, that in the National Football League your last impression is often more valuable than your first.
“I think that’s the thing they can hang their hat on,” safeties coach Darren Perry said earlier in the week, “that they’re going to get an opportunity, obviously with the starters not playing very much. The opportunity is going to be there. I’ve seen a lot of battles won.
“People can talk about the roster being pretty much set here and there, but I’ve seen this game make or break a lot of people over the years and so forth. So it has a lot of meaning. To some, probably not as much, but there’s some guys right on that cusp that if they go out and they perform, they earn themselves a roster spot.”
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On Thursday that parable explained the fleeting smile of LaDarius Gunter, a stoic cornerback known for his serious approach to the game. Gunter, whose last 12 months have mimicked a heart monitor, put forth his best performance of the exhibition season against the Rams. He sacked quarterback Dan Orlovsky and intercepted a pass in the span of three plays early in the first quarter.
“That was much-needed for me,” Gunter said. “Last game of the preseason, building on that success. Hopefully I can take it into the regular season and just continue.”
Gunter had fallen hard since January, when he finished as the team’s No. 1 cornerback and tracked Odell Beckham Jr., Dez Bryant and Julio Jones through the playoffs. His lack of speed was exploited on a daily basis through the first few weeks of camp, and the coaches responded by dropping Gunter down the depth chart. They even changed his position in hopes of jolting him back to life.
In that regard, cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt Jr. and defensive coordinator Dom Capers may have pulled off a coup. Gunter, despite his nontraditional build, began to thrive in the slot. On Thursday he hauled down Orlovsky after a slot blitz and intercepted a pass that ricocheted off a shoulder pad of the intended receiver.
“It does a lot for my confidence and the coaches’ confidence in me,” Gunter said. “Just being able to go out there and make plays when they present themselves. Hopefully I can be one of those guys for them.
“Nobody is safe. Nobody is safe, you know what I’m saying? It’s always best to go out there and make a play and give yourself a chance.”
While Gunter allowed nothing more than a brief smile, fellow cornerback Donatello Brown failed to contain his glee. An undrafted rookie from Valdosta State, Brown had snagged an interception of his own to punctuate a strong training camp in which he separated himself from a crop of undrafted corners.
“We was in a Cover-2 call,” Brown said. “I’m out there on the corner. I see the quarterback staring down his initial receiver. I told myself if I see him throw it on the inside then I was going to trigger. He threw it, I triggered, caught it, seen some green field, green opening and just tried to take it to the house.”
Though he didn’t score, Brown was thrilled with the performance he put on tape in his final chance to impress the scouts. It may have won him a spot on the practice squad.
“That was like a big lift off my shoulders because the previous games I dropped two interceptions and came back with this one in the last (game) and had good coverage throughout,” Brown said. “It was just a relief, and I was just excited. … I feel I’m right there. I know that good things are said about me upstairs. I just try to go out and compete every day and just try to win. I’m all about winning.”