Eric Stokes, other Packers' draft picks feel right at home on first day of rookie camp

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GREEN BAY - Other than the uniform colors, little changed for Eric Stokes when he wore his Green Bay Packers helmet for the first time Friday.

Stokes played college football at Georgia, known for its big, block G. That big, block G  provided the Packers' first-round cornerback a sense of familiarity.

"I'm just switching the G," Stokes said, "and I'm just getting a little color. Instead of the red and black, I'm going with the green and yellow. So it's just a whole different G, but it's still amazing. It's historic, the history behind here that I keep learning every day."

Stokes got his first taste of the NFL on Friday when the Packers opened their rookie minicamp. He was among 28 players, including nine draft picks, practicing on Clarke Hinkle Field. Coach Matt LaFleur said he was pleased to have the rookies in person this year after COVID-19 rendered their minicamp virtual last offseason.

For each rookie, the past week has provided their first impression of their new city. 

Cornerback Eric Stokes (21) is shown during the first day of Green Bay Packers rookie minicamp Friday, May 14, 2021 in Green Bay, Wis.

"Everything is kind of flat and spread out," third-round rookie Amari Rodgers said. "It's like I'm at the hotel, and it's like not much around me, but then I take a left and a right, and it's a big, huge stadium right there. So it's like everything is flat, and then you make a left and a right, and it's the stadium and the facility. So it's pretty cool just to know that it's a smaller town, but then you get into the center of it, and it's one of the most prestigious stadiums in NFL history."

Josh Myers moving well with repaired toe

Three and a half months after surgery to repair a broken bone in his left big toe, center Josh Myers did not look limited in his first Packers practice.

Though Myers said he isn't yet 100 percent, the second-round pick out of Ohio State was able to participate in offensive line drills Friday. After the draft, Myers said he was just starting to do offensive line drills but not yet running full speed.

"I'm doing really good with it, to be honest with you," Myers said of the toe. "It seems like it's getting better and better every week. I'm able to run pretty much full speed. I was doing offensive line drills all day today. There are a couple of things that I'm getting held out on, and that's more of a just safety thing for now. Why push it hard in May when we don't absolutely have to?

"So there's a few things that I'm just kind of being careful with, but other than that I'm doing pretty much everything."

Myers worked exclusively at center. While he's also able to play guard, the position he played throughout his life until moving to center before his redshirt sophomore season at Ohio State, coach Matt LaFleur said center will be his focus for now.

Myers, who worked with Ohio State offensive line coach Greg Studrawa on learning the Packers playbook before arriving in Green Bay, said understanding LaFleur's system is his focus more than a starting job at this time.

"My mindset right now," Myers said, "is to just learn this playbook as fast as I can and to have the ability to be flexible and do the best job that I can and go wherever the coaches end up putting me. If that's center, if that's guard, we'll see. I'm just going to do everything that I can to be the best player I can, and then we'll see where the cards fall at the end of it."

Myers signed a four-year deal with the Packers, a source said. The team also announced the signings of fourth-round offensive lineman Royce Newman, fifth-round defensive lineman T.J. Slaton, fifth-round cornerback Shemar Jean-Charles, sixth-round offensive lineman Cole Van Lanen, sixth-round linebacker Isaiah McDuffie and seventh-round running back Kylin Hill.

Amari Rodgers 'well built' for wide receiver

Even in shorts, receiver Amari Rodgers impressed in his first Packers practice.

"He's a well-built kid," coach Matt LaFleur said of Rodgers, the third-round pick out of Clemson. "He looks like a grown man. He's got that big, running back-thick frame. Then you watch him run routes, and he doesn't move like most traditional running backs. So we're really excited about just the versatility that he can potentially bring to our offense, and also his contributions on special teams."

Rodgers was the lone Packers player fielding punts during Friday's opening day of rookie minicamp. While that's a role Rodgers likely will fill this season, LaFleur said Rodgers will also get an opportunity at kickoff return.

Of course, Rodgers' primary function will be receiver. LaFleur indicated Rodgers might fill the jet-sweep role in his offense. It's unclear whether Rodgers will line up in the backfield as a running back, something he might have the versatility to do.

Rodgers had a solid start to rookie minicamp, including a deep catch from quarterback Chad Kelly after beating fifth-round cornerback Shemar Jean-Charles down the right sideline.

"Just getting off the ball, quickness and speed. Just playing with good technique, playing with speed. If you play fast, you'll always have an advantage. So that was really my mindset going up versus that. I knew he was pressing me, so I just wanted to get up in my route as fast as possible and get on top of him so he couldn't recover from it.

"It was a dime by Chad Kelly, Clemson alum. We were clicking today a little bit."

Van Lanen's cell phone keeping busy

Since the day the Packers selected Green Bay native Cole Van Lanen in the sixth round of the NFL draft, his cell phone has been in a continuous state of ringing and dinging.

The number of people he has heard from is “in the hundreds” — family, friends, even folks he isn’t close with. Each supporter sent words of encouragement to Van Lanen, who media and fans quickly lauded as homegrown talent the moment he became a Packer.

“I just want to be someone that this town can look up to,” the Bay Port High School alumnus said. “A hometown kid that's kinda made it and I'm glad I can be that guy and represent the community well.”

When the cacophony of calls dies down, Van Lanen doesn’t dwell on his local ties to the team. Now, as a player, not a fan, Van Lanen focuses on impressing at rookie minicamp, earning a spot on the 53-man roster and making an impact in the offensive line room.

“Honestly, I don't think about that at all,” Van Lanen said. “It's more media or friends, family, whatever, they'll bring it up. I don't think about that at all. I think about this as I have a great opportunity.

“I'm that guy that needs to learn and I need to be able to be on the field and I'll make this team and make an impact on this team. That's been my mentality from the beginning, no matter what team I got drafted to. I'm obviously blessed and extremely excited it's the Packers.”

Still, Van Lanen’s Wisconsin roots serve as the foundation for the football player he has become. At Bay Port High School, Van Lanen, was a two-time first-team All-State offensive tackle. At the University of Wisconsin, he spent two seasons as the Badgers’ starting left tackle. As a young offensive lineman and a Packers fan, he studied left tackle David Bakhtiari.

When Van Lanen signed his rookie deal Thursday, he allowed himself to enjoy the moment and embrace the hometown connection.

“I'm extremely excited for the opportunity to play for the Green Bay Packers and that's something you dream of and I got to do it today and wear the ‘G’,” Van Lanen said. “Definitely gonna keep wearing it with pride and make this town proud, that's for sure.”

Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel contributed.

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