GREEN BAY – Rashan Gary, like all rookies, had the option to choose his jersey number from those available on the Green Bay Packers roster.
So the fact Gary requested to wear No. 52 was lost on no one. It’s the same jersey worn the past 10 seasons by Clay Matthews, the franchise’s all-time sacks leader. But Matthews left for the Los Angeles Rams in free agency this spring, leaving the No. 52 vacant.
That number won’t even get a full season off.
“I just stared at it for probably like five minutes,” Gary said of wearing an NFL jersey for the first time Friday at the team’s opening day of rookie minicamp. “Then I realized I had to catch the bus, so I had to hurry up and put it on. But, man, wearing the green and gold, there’s just something about it. coming to an organization like this, you understand the players that play here before you, and the standard that you need to uphold.
“Every time I wear that 52, it means a lot to me. And I’m going to make sure I carry it with respect.”
Gary said he chose No. 52 not to send a message as the Packers’ highest-drafted edge rusher since Matthews was taken 26th overall in 2009, but as an homage to his college number. At Michigan, Gary wore the No. 3 jersey, an option not available to outside linebackers.
“Five minus two equals three,” Gary said.
It’s not the only piece of his college outfit Gary keeps with him. On Friday, Gary wore a shoulder harness, same as he did while playing through a shoulder injury last season at Michigan. Gary said it was a joint decision made with the trainers to wear the harness.
“I feel comfortable playing with it,” Gary said, “so I’m rocking with it.”
Gary, apparently, is also comfortable with what wearing No. 52 represents.
“Clay Matthews is a guy,” Gary said, “I used to watch his game a lot. I’m a bigger-type guy, but just watching what he used to do, his passion for the game, I loved it. As soon as I seen it was open, I had to take it.”
Sternberger sits out
There was only one non-participant in Friday’s practice, and that was third-round pick Jace Sternberger. The tight end out of Texas A&M watched from the sidelines in a baseball hat. Head coach Matt LaFleur said it was due to an illness, and he expected Sternberger to participate Saturday.
Even so, the rookie tried to make as good of a first impression as possible despite being held off the field.
“First impressions are always big for me,” Sternberger said. “Not even in sports, but in life, when you meet that first person. Obviously I didn’t get to do anything today being sick but it’s one of those things where I’m doing things off the field preparation-wise where I can still make a good impression.”
'Packer Green' hair
The hair on the back of Dexter Williams’ head is still dyed green, a fitting homage to his alma mater. Notre Dame, home to the Fighting Irish, likes its green. Williams used to call his hair color “Irish Green.”
Now he has another name for it.
“It’s Packer Green now,” he said.
Williams said he would’ve dyed his hair to whatever color of the team that drafted him. That he doesn’t have to change isn’t the only reason he’s glad it was the Packers. A one-cut-and-go runner, Williams is an ideal fit for LaFleur’s outside-zone offense.
Williams can already envision how well his fit might be.
“I feel like it was meant to be,” Williams said. “I feel like this is the perfect place for me. Offense-wise, it was similar to what we were running in the Senior Bowl. So a lot of things I was comfortable with.”
Defensive lineman Kingsley Keke reported to camp at 295 pounds, which is about 10 pounds more than he was asked while playing end at Texas A & M.
Keke has played at as much as 315 pounds but was willing to drop weight to play the edge last year. Now that he’s up to 295, the Packers have told him to stay where he is and see if that’s a comfortable weight for him.
“I’ve been as high as 315, but it’s not like I was a fat 315,” Keke said. “I was a pretty solid 315 and so I can play there if they need me. But they told me to just stay where I’m at and we’ll go from there.”
LaFleur unleashes throwing arm
Unknowingly, LaFleur showed another significant difference between he and predecessor Mike McCarthy on Friday: He’s much more involved physically during practice.
LaFleur, a college quarterback at Saginaw Valley State, threw passes to his running backs during the first day of rookie minicamp. Some of his passes apparently left an impression.
“Threw some good balls out there, man,” LaFleur said.
Important evaluation window
The Packers brought in 20 players to tryout during the three-day rookie minicamp, and while LaFleur tried to tamp down expectations he and his staff may be putting on any rookie in such a short time frame, he acknowledged it’s an important evaluation window for such players.
The Packers are not at their 90-man roster limit so some contracts can be had.
“I just want to see guys compete, give great effort, strain, finish,” LaFleur said. “If they have the skill set that we’re looking for at that particular position and their ability to showcase that, it gives them a great chance.”
Here is the complete list of tryout players:
Taiwan Deal, RB, Wisconsin
CJ Collins, QB, Southwest Assemblies of God
Taylor Cornelius, QB, Oklahoma State
Cole Tracy, K, LSU
Fred Trevillion, WR, San Diego State
Darrius Shepherd, WR, North Dakota State
Jamarius Way, WR, South Alabama
Cory Contini, WR, Ohio Dominican
Jake Collins, P, Northwestern
Deion Harris, CB, North Dakota
Devonte Williams, S, Texas A&M-Kingsville
Sam Seonbuchner, FB, Iowa State
Koron Crump, LB, Arizona State
Mike Bell, S, Fresno State
Josh Smith, LB, Vanderbilt
Patrick Eby, LS, Columbia
Omarius Bryant, DL ,Western Kentucky
Casey Tucker, T, Arizona State
Adrian Middleton, DL, Kentucky
Sam Brincks, DL, Iowa