Packers tight end Jace Sternberger seeking to make up for reps lost to COVID-19 setback
GREEN BAY - Green Bay Packers tight end Jace Sternberger spent the offseason making sure that when he reported to training camp he would be farther along in his quest to be a starter than he was when he caught a touchdown in the NFC Championship in January.
Then he suffered a setback.
Sternberger’s COVID-19 test administered in the run-up to training camp was positive and he was immediately sent home and quarantined. All but four others who landed on the COVID reserve list got to spend the next two weeks doing strength and conditioning work at the facility and taking part in walk-throughs.
The second-year pro was placed on the reserve list July 30 and wasn’t cleared to practice until Aug. 17.
Any hopes of picking right up where he left off last season were dashed.
“Fortunately, I was able to sit in on the meetings virtually through zoom,” Sternberger said after practice Sunday. “It was frustrating not being able to be out there, but at the same time you don’t want to be somewhere if you’re sick, and you don’t want to spread the sickness to your teammates.
“I was just trying to be a good teammate and at the same time hammering the details and just controlling what I can control.”
Sternberger, who said he was asymptomatic and fortunate not to need extra time to recover, took part in a mandatory five-day conditioning program after being cleared to join his teammates.
In the end, he missed just one practice, but he was brought along slowly and his integration back into the offense has been gradual. During that time Robert Tonyan and rookie Josiah Degaura have eaten up a lot of snaps at tight end, but Sternberger was able to take part in the full-contact “developmental” period at the end of practice.
It’s the first tackling of any kind the Packers have done and Sternberger was happy to take part.
“Any time you get live snaps it’s great, especially when you don’t have a preseason,” he said. “For me, missing part of the acclimation periods, this past five or six days getting the rust off me, getting back into the groove of things as fast as I can, (has) been a little stressful in that sense of things.
“But at the same time getting to go live and getting to be out there with the guys it’s been really beneficial. I know coach said we’re going to be able to do that a few more times. I know I’m looking forward to it, just trying to make up for all those reps I’ve been missing.”
Whether its due to subpar performance from the wide receivers or its own excellent play, the Packers' defensive backfield has been hard to throw on.
That has been true since the first day of padded practice and though quarterback Aaron Rodgers was able to drive 46 yards in 11 plays for a game-winning field goal in a 2-minute drill, he had to do it dinking and dunking the ball.
The longest completion was a 17-yard pass to Tonyan on a seam route.
In one-on-one drills, the cornerbacks were blanketing receivers and breaking up passes with regularity. Even Davante Adams, who is impossible to cover 1-on-1, lost two of three to cornerback Kevin King.
Even the young players, who often struggle in this drill, were hard to beat.
First-year corner DaShaun Amos and undrafted rookie Will Sunderland both went 2-0 in reps against Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Jake Kumerow. Later in team drills, Ka’dar Hollman broke up a pass and defended Adams on a deep ball.
Leadership duties suit Summers
Ty Summers doesn’t yet know what role he’ll have in the Packers' defense, but he figures to be a leader regardless.
That’s because Summers is among the Packers’ top special teams performers a year after he made the 53-man roster as a seventh-round pick primarily for his ability to cover and block during punts and kicks. Summers played 311 special-teams reps last season, more than anyone else on his team.
Summers said he’s “100 percent” prepared to lead the special teams units this season.
“If my role again this year was just all four phases of special teams,” Summers said, “I’m going to be the best leader that I can in that environment, and continue to push the guys at linebacker to make them better.”
Summers’ snaps as an inside linebacker are still being determined. He has gotten reps up and down the depth chart as the coaching staff continues to evaluate the position.
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Summers said he has a better grasp of the Mike linebacker position than Will linebacker, where he’s focused primarily learning in camp. As a Will, Summers plays more in space on the weak side of the offense’s formation, rather than lining up on the strong side.
Summers said he’s “so much more comfortable on defense” compared to a year ago.
“Ultimately, the best two are going to be out there,” Summers said of the inside linebackers. “Coach is going to make that decision but at the end of the day, we’re going to support one another regardless of who it is out there.”
Malik Taylor turning heads
Malik Taylor is one of seven wide receivers on the Packers’ roster that is in the second year of Matt LaFleur’s offense, and the undrafted pass catcher out of Ferris State has been making impressive plays in individual and team settings over the last few days.
In one-on-one competition with corner Kabion Ento on Sunday, Taylor tipped up a short pass over the back of Ento and corralled it for a touchdown as the pair fell to the ground. In team settings he took a handoff and raced for a first down as a runner on third-and-long in the additional developmental period after the full-team practice. He has become a frequent target for Tim Boyle and Jordan Love as the practices have worn on, though LaFleur said like the rest of the receivers there remains a consistency issue with Taylor.
“He’s another young player,” LaFleur said. “He’s had some really good moments and some stuff that hasn’t been so good. It’s just trying to find that level of consistency with each of those players.”
Taylor, listed 6-feet, 1-inch, and 220 pounds, spent last season on the Packers’ practice squad after originally being signed by Tampa Bay after the 2019 NFL draft. At his pro day, he clocked a 4.4-second 40-yard dash, 36-inch vertical and 4.02-second shuttle speed. He missed the regular season during his senior year in 2019 due to a hamstring injury but caught 7 passes for 88 yards and a touchdown in the Division II playoffs.