Packers confident their young wide receivers group will be ready to take 'next step'
GREEN BAY - There was one major change planned regarding the wide receiver room for the 2020 Green Bay Packers, with free-agent addition Devin Funchess expected to fill the spot vacated by Geronimo Allison, who signed in Detroit and chose Sunday to opt out of the 2020 season.
No other wideout with NFL experience was signed, and no draft capital was spent on the position.
So with Funchess also electing last week to opt out of the season due to concerns over the coronavirus pandemic, the Packers will once again have the group of Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Allen Lazard, Jake Kumerow, Equanimeous St. Brown and Darrius Shepherd competing to line up alongside Davante Adams.
Shepherd made the initial 53-man roster out of training camp and appeared in six games. He caught one pass before being cut in late October and spent the rest of the year on the practice squad. St. Brown injured a foot in the preseason and spent the year on injured reserve after a rookie season in 2018 in which he caught 21 passes for 328 yards. Malik Taylor, who spent all of last year on the practice squad, is also back.
The club did sign Reggie Begelton out of the Canadian Football League and undrafted rookie Darrell Stewart out of Michigan State.
“I think that we’re expecting everybody to step up,” Packers head coach Matt LaFleur said Sunday via a Zoom call. “It will be nice, you know, what’s so great is these guys have a year under their belt in our scheme and they’ve had a really productive offseason. Although they haven’t been in the building, I feel like the meetings have gone very, very well. Really excited about (first-year wide receivers coach) Jason Vrable and (coaching assistant) Ruvell Martin guiding that group.
“It’s going to be great to get ‘EQ’ back in the fold. That certainly hurt us last year, so we do have a lot of confidence in our receiving corps and they’re going to have to take that next step for us to be as productive as we’d like to be this coming fall.”
When asked if he is more actively pursuing a receiver to add to the roster, Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst didn’t tip his hand.
“I wouldn’t say we’re any more active than we ever have been in looking for help at any position,” he said. “Obviously it’s a little bit different this year because there’s not going to be any preseason games to evaluate, so I think we’re going to have to heavily rely on a lot of other ways to evaluate players on other teams and players who are available through the waiver wire and other means. I think it’s nice to have everybody back in the building and working toward kind of the same thing. It’s been a long time since we’ve had that. But as far as the way we go about the process of it, that hasn’t really changed.”
Only one opt-out
So far, Funchess is the only player to choose the opt-out option.
Gutekunst said he has not gotten the sense that anyone else will opt out of the season, which is an option for every player. If the player opts out, his contract is tolled and picks up next year.
The deadline for opting out hasn’t been finalized but may be as early as Wednesday.
“All of our players are going through some really tough situations, tough choices they have to make with their families,” Gutekunst said. “I really appreciate kind of how he (Funchess) handled that situation with us.
“But it’s really no different than any other year. You lose players for different reasons – injuries and such.”
‘Aaron’s our quarterback’
In his only session with local media in mid-May, Aaron Rodgers broke down his feelings regarding the drafting of Jordan Love in the first round. He said he was surprised and realized that ending his career in Green Bay was likely not on the table. Rodgers reiterated those sentiments recently on a podcast with The Ringer.
“I think right now, most importantly, Aaron’s our quarterback,” LaFleur said. “And I see him here for a really long time. and however long that is, I don’t think anybody knows. Nothing’s guaranteed in this league. But I feel so lucky to be able to work with him on a daily basis. I don’t see that changing for a really long time.”
Williams likely done in Green Bay
Since taking over as general manager in 2018, Gutekunst has cut Jordy Nelson and Mike Daniels and bid adieu to Clay Matthews and Randall Cobb in free agency. This offseason, Bryan Bulaga and Tramon Williams exited as free agents. While fans and some media often speculate about bringing any and all back, Gutekunst proved to be one who sticks to his roster decisions. Williams remains a free agent and Gutekunst was asked about potentially re-signing the veteran Sunday.
“As far as Tramon goes, I have great respect for Tramon, what he’s done here,” Gutekunst said. “We’re certainly very aware of where he is. No updates at this time, but I have a lot of respect for Tramon and what he brings to the table.”
Packers like Lovett
Despite additional challenges with bringing in players from outside the system (travel, physicals and COVID-19 testing), the Packers did make one roster addition over the last week in claiming former Kansas City Chiefs fullback John Lovett.
Lovett played quarterback at Princeton before signing with the Chiefs as an undrafted free agent in 2019. It was there he changed positions, but he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in the first exhibition game.
Gutekunst acknowledged the Packers tried to sign Lovett as an undrafted free agent.
“He was a do-it-all player at Princeton,” Gutekunst said. “Played quarterback there, he's got really good size. I think his transition into the H-back, fullback role is something that back in '19 we were excited about. Once we get him through all the protocols here and get him in the building, it'll be good to see him out on the field, see what he can do.”
Riding with 90
Gutekunst said he plans on using a 90-man roster to start training camp, which means the team will have to split into two groups for use of the facility and practice fields.
The NFL has given teams the option of going with 90 players and limiting the number who can be inside the facility at a given time to 45 or going with 80 and allowing everyone in.
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Since the first two weeks are mostly strength and conditioning, it shouldn’t affect coach Matt LaFleur’s plan to get the team ready. Players are limited to how long they can be in the team’s facility and joint meetings can be held virtually.
Plus, Gutekunst said, the league has mandated that rookies and players coming off injuries be part of one group, which means the coaches can give the younger players extra attention when they’re in the building.
“How long we carry a split squad is something we evaluate pretty much daily and what’s best for the club and training them,” Gutekunst said.