GREEN BAY — When Green Bay Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst decided to release punter Justin Vogel — honoring a request from Vogel himself — the future for rookie JK Scott came into focus immediately: Barring a disaster, the job is his.
“I think it’s obvious,” coach Mike McCarthy said when asked Saturday about the team’s direction at punter.
Vogel’s future with the organization was upended the moment Gutekunst used a fifth-round draft pick on Scott, a four-year starter at Alabama. Even if Vogel went through training camp, and even if he kicked beautifully on every attempt, the chances of him making the 53-man roster over a fifth-round pick were always going to be slim. Requesting his release at least gives him a chance to stick with someone else.
“A lot of things go into those decisions,” McCarthy said. “You go through all the different options you go through in camp. There is a fairness to Justin to give him an opportunity out there today as opposed to come August (during roster cuts). You weigh all those.”
McCarthy also indicated that Gutekunst couldn’t square the desire to field the strongest 90-man roster with allocating an extra spot to punter, a specialty position where competition is more of a luxury than an absolute necessity. A year ago the Packers intended to have Jacob Schum compete with Vogel, then an undrafted rookie from Miami, but when Schum injured his back during the spring, the team moved forward without a competition. Schum, meanwhile, spent the year on injured reserve.
Having even one extra roster spot at their disposal means the Packers can take a longer look at a tryout player who makes an impression during this weekend’s rookie orientation.
“You have a number of tryout players who are in here we want to take another really good look at (on Saturday),” McCarthy said. “When you get down 87, 88, 89, 90 spots on your roster, that’s why you go through all the different scenarios. Justin did a heck of a job for us. You want to give these men other opportunities, so you feel good about that part of it. I think it’s obvious the way we’re moving forward.”
So now the job belongs to Scott, and the Packers seem content to let him keep it.
“There’s a very high level of trust of every young man that’s been brought in here,” McCarthy said. “This thing about earn your trust and earn this and that, that’s not realistic in professional football. You trust the fact when these young men come into our organization, they’re here for an opportunity. What they’re focused on is earning the opportunity to continue forward.
“Obviously, there’s risk in every decision you make, but I know through coaching over the years, when you invest into each and every guy, give them the opportunity, build them up the best you can whether it’s through competition — competition is a great motivator. It brings the cream to the top. I get that. But sometimes you have to commit and develop from within and we’ll get the results that we need.”