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Packers rolling the dice on a pair of long-shot receiver prospects

GREEN BAY - Although Green Bay Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst added a pair of wide receivers in the week leading up to the team’s first training camp practice, there’s no indication either will be anything but a long shot to make the 53-man roster.

The Packers had only eight wide receivers on the roster after free agent Devin Funchess opted out of the season because of the coronavirus and it’s likely Gutekunst and coach Matt LaFleur felt they needed more bodies to get through camp.

Gutekunst signed Malik Turner, a 6-foot-2, 202-pound third-year player who was released by the Seattle Seahawks in April and claimed Travis Fulgham, a 6-2, 211-pound sixth-round draft choice of the Detroit Lions in 2019.

Turner signed with the Seahawks as an undrafted free agent out of Illinois in 2018 and appeared in 21 games in two seasons with three starts. He had 17 catches for 265 yards and a touchdown.

His most noteworthy play last year was a drop in the NFC Divisional Round playoff against the Packers that would have kept a potential game-winning drive alive.

Nov 24, 2019; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Malik Turner (17) after catching a touchdown  against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

“He’s just a guy,” said a scout from an NFC West team.  “He’s the type of player you like to have on the practice squad because you trust him to be the fifth or sixth receiver on game day if you need.

“But not much more value than the last guy in that position group.”

Turner did not run the 40-yard dash at the combine or his pro day in 2018 because of a broken foot. He benched 225 pounds 17 times at his pro day.

The Packers had Turner in for a tryout in a post-draft minicamp in ’18.

At Illinois, he had the ninth-most receiving yards (1,804) and receptions (143) in school history. He played in 2014-15 with former Packers receiver Geronimo Allison.

Fulgham spent most of last season on Detroit’s practice squad but was activated for the final three games and did not catch a pass.

“Travis is a big, talented receiver, but he's raw and he had issues with attention-to-detail type stuff,” an NFC scout said. “Just a big kid type.”

Fulgham played in 39 games at Old Dominion and caught 128 passes for 2,044 yards and 18 touchdowns. At the scouting combine he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.58 seconds, had a vertical jump of 36½ inches and benched 225 pounds 15 times.

Putting on pads

The Packers’ first padded practice in camp likely will come in their third day on the field, providing one sense of normalcy to this training camp like no other. 

The Packers usually take two non-padded practices before strapping pads, following NFLPA guidelines. They’ll do the same next week, despite their first padded practice coming at a point in the calendar when they’d typically be preparing for their second preseason game. 

The team will first conduct non-padded practices Saturday and Monday (all practices are closed to the public). LaFleur left open the possibility the team could wait until its fourth practice to strap pads. 

Without giving specifics, LaFleur said the NFL sent a list of drills prohibited because of COVID-19 protocols. Otherwise, he said practice will “have a normal feel” expected from either OTAs (non-padded) or camp (padded). 

“Certainly we’re going to try to remind our guys to keep their distance when they’re not in there,” LaFleur said, “whether it’s in the drills or whether we’re doing 11-on-11. But I think it will have a pretty typical feel to it. We’ve just got to be mindful as coaches, too, when the players aren’t in the specific drill or out there in 11-on-11, to stay away from each other.” 

The NFL has strict restrictions on practice time, LaFleur said. 

The team’s first padded practice must be no longer than 90 minutes. Practice time increases by 15 minutes each day after, except following an off day, when practice can’t be any longer than the previous time. So if a practice entering an off day is 105 minutes, the practice following an off day must be no longer than 105 minutes. 

The maximum allotted practice time on the field will be two and a half hours.  

LaFleur said veteran and younger players will be on separate schedules. 

“As we progress through,” LaFleur said, “we will try to keep our veteran players that we know very well, we’ll try to keep them under that two-hour limit, but we will stay out there with some of our younger players and really give them an opportunity to get more team reps and give us a chance to evaluate those guys.” 

Savage stays focused

When he wasn’t back home in Maryland, safety Darnell Savage said he stayed in Green Bay this offseason to continue his training. 

In ordinary times, this offseason would be a crucial moment in Savage’s development. After playing 865 snaps (83.1 percent) as a rookie last season, the Packers’ first-round pick would have entered his first, full offseason program this spring. The COVID-19 crisis curtailed his offseason, limiting interactions with his team to Zoom meetings. 

“I just wanted to be somewhere where I felt comfortable,” Savage said. “I wasn’t worried about any other place as far as any Florida, California, nothing like that. I just wanted to be comfortable and still be able to get good work in.” 

Savage, who had a defended pass in each of his first three games, had a quick start to his career. He had six tackles and forced a fumble Week 2 against the Minnesota Vikings. His first interception came Week 3 against the Denver Broncos. 

An ankle injury in October forced Savage to miss two games. After he returned, Savage had six tackles just once in his final nine games, with two defended passes and one interception.  

Now healthy, Savage said he wants to make the proverbial second-year jump. He hopes his time in Green Bay this offseason will help, even with training restrictions during the pandemic. 

“Really just film study, learning the game more, learning myself more,” Savage said. “It’s a long season, and there’s a lot of takeaways you can take from the season that’s good and bad. Really just learning and continuing to grow as a player.” 

Keeping it clean

On Wednesday, the NFL and the players association announced that daily COVID-19 testing will occur through the second roster cut down Sept. 5, even though the NFL Network reported that the league’s chief medical officer Dr. Allen Sills said the positive testing rate through Tuesday was at 0.81% for players and 0.46% overall.

So on the surface, it appears players are being mindful. But in Seattle, NFL Media reported that the Seahawks cut rookie cornerback Kemah Siverand because he tried to sneak a woman into the team hotel.

“Yeah, I’ve got no indication that guys are being reckless out there,” LaFleur said of his team. “I feel like we’ve really hammered home that message to make sure that they protect the team. I mean, that is a main rule of ours, is put the team first and I’ve got a lot of trust in the guys we have in that locker room. We’ve got a lot of great character and I think our guys are going to go about the business the right way.”