Packers notes: Brian Gutekunst weighs risks with preexisting injuries

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Green Bay Packers cornerback Kevin King (20) tackles Cincinnati Bengals running back Jeremy Hill (32) in the first half Sunday, September 24, 2017, at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis.

INDIANAPOLIS – A year ago, the Green Bay Packers found themselves in a similar position, desperately needing to get help for their defense through the draft.

They spent their first four picks on defense. Ultimately, their aggressiveness didn’t pay off. Three of the rookies drafted in the first four rounds had their seasons drastically altered by injuries, including third-round defensive tackle Montravius Adams.

Especially troubling were cornerback Kevin King's and outside linebacker Vince Biegel’s medical situations. Both were drafted with preexisting injuries that derailed their seasons. King was placed on injured reserve with a chronically dislocating shoulder that required a second surgery, his first coming after his freshman season in college. Biegel missed the entire offseason and first half of the regular season with his second Jones fracture in his foot, his first coming while at Wisconsin.

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It’s always a balance of risk and reward for general managers to decide when to draft players with preexisting injuries. If not for their medical situation, perhaps the Packers wouldn’t have had the opportunity to draft King and Biegel in the second and fourth rounds, respectively. But having one season cut short and another severely delayed because of injury was far from ideal.

Regardless, general manager Brian Gutekunst said those situations did not lead him to reevaluate how the Packers approach players with preexisting injuries.

“I don’t think it changes the way we go about it too much, what happened with those two particular players,” Gutekunst said. “We have an exhaustive process that’s going on right now to try to get the best evaluations and try to make the best guesses on how that’s all going to play out.”

It usually is a guess as to how a player’s preexisting injury from college will follow him into the NFL. T.J. Watt, the former Badgers pass rusher drafted one position behind the Packers' original pick last spring, entered the NFL with a history of injuries in both knees. Not only did Watt play 15 games for the Pittsburgh Steelers but his seven sacks also were more than older brother J.J. Watt had as a rookie.

Gutekunst said it’s common for incoming college players to have a questionable medical history entering the draft.

“These guys have played four years somewhere,” Gutekunst said. “Most of these guys have something significant that they’ve dealt with or overcome. Very few of them come out clean. That’s just part of it. That’s part of the risk.”

Thompson's role: Ted Thompson was not in Indianapolis when the NFL scouting combine commenced, and Gutekunst said he’s “not sure” if his predecessor will arrive later in the week.

It’s yet another sign of where Thompson factors into the new organizational restructure. The Packers' longtime GM might linger as a consultant, but the franchise is Gutekunst’s to run. Yet Gutekunst said Thompson remains an important voice within the front office.

“He’s kind of touching a lot of different aspects,” Gutekunst said. “He has so much experience. He’s going to do some pro, some college. He’s a part of all of our meetings. In fact, I talked to him (before coming to the combine).”

It’s fitting Thompson isn’t in Indianapolis. His new role places him where he feels most comfortable, specifically, away from the limelight.

Already, Gutekunst has been more visible than Thompson ever was. There he was on the team’s Twitter account in January, posing for a picture next to running back Joel Bouagnon, the first player the new GM signed. Imagine Thompson tweeting a picture of himself to more than 2 million followers. There would have been a better chance of him scheduling an impromptu news conference.

Gutekunst’s willingness to be publicly available should benefit coach Mike McCarthy. No longer will McCarthy be left answering for roster decisions Thompson made. Asked whether he’s looking forward to working with a more visible GM, McCarthy shrugged off the change.

“Ah, styles,” he said. “I never said anything negative about the coach that I replaced. There’s nothing. Brian is different than Ted. Ted was very successful. So, I’m confident Brian is going to be very confident in his style.”

What that style is remains to be seen. But Gutekunst made clear he still values Thompson’s input, even if it doesn't come in Indianapolis.

“We always really look forward to getting back to Green Bay after this process,” Gutekunst said, “because we’re going to go through all the tape, and you have so many more answers to the questions that you’re (asking). Really, the board starts to clear itself up. At the same time, I think he’s excited about it.”


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