Packers defensive assistant coaches excited about Year 2 for Quay Walker and Devonte Wyatt, other takeaways
GREEN BAY − As each Green Bay Packers defensive assistant coach took their turn at the podium Wednesday, there was one consistent message: It’s only May.
It’s only May, so the starting lineup doesn’t have to be set yet. It’s only May, so the questions that persist at safety don’t need answers just now. It’s only May, so the influx of rookie and second-year talent has time to develop. It’s only May, so there are still four months to wash out the bad taste of a disappointing 2022 season.
But, it’s also already May, which means veterans and rookies are filtering back into Lambeau Field, ready to kick off OTAs on Monday. Training camp is on the horizon and coaches are starting to see what they have on the field. With that in mind, here are five things that stood out from the Packers defensive assistant coaches Wednesday.
Quay Walker can and will play everywhere
The Packers highest drafted rookie last season made an immediate impact. A day-one starter, Quay Walker finished his rookie season with 121 tackles, 1.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. His length and power give him a versatile skill set and the Packers enticing ways to use him. Don’t be surprised if he’s all over the field this season.
Packers pass-rush specialist Jason Rebrovich was asked Wednesday, “How do you see Quay fitting into your pass-rush game?”
“Yes. I'll leave it at that."
Quay Walker’s usage has to come with a calmness
For as much as Walker made a positive difference in games, it is two striking negative occurrences during his rookie season for which he is infamously remembered. Against the Buffalo Bills, after a tackle that went out-of-bounds and into the Bills sideline, Walker shoved a Bills practice squad player. Walker was subsequently ejected from the game.
Then during the Packers last game of the season, and their last shot at the playoffs, it happened again. When a Detroit Lions team physician came on to the field to attend an injured D’Andre Swift, the doctor attempted to move Walker out of the way. Walker in turn, shoved the staff member. He was ejected again.
A tearful Walker apologized as the Packers cleaned out their lockers the following week, and general manager Brian Gutekunst stood behind his first-round pick, saying at the time, “I don't think he has a problem, no. Certainly he can't do that. That's unacceptable and he knows that. We love Quay.”
Walkers position coach, Kirk Olivadotti, echoed the sentiment Wednesday, and promised actions were being taken to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
“He and I spent a lot of time on that subject,” Olivadotti said. “The biggest thing is that I know and I trust Quay, that he and I've talked talked through that and had our conversations and kind of have a plan in place for a lot of different things … he’s more than willing to learn from all his mistakes, especially those.”
What are some of those plans?
“Play to the whistle, then be so busy in between snaps that you don’t even notice what else is going on because you’re moving on to the next play,” Olivadotti said. “There’s other parts to it also but that’s a big part of it.”
Three’s not a crowd for edge pass rushers
The Packers drafted another defensive player early this year. Adding pass rusher Lukas Van Ness from Iowa not only gives Green Bay a young, albeit raw, talent to mold, he also provides some breathing room while Rashan Gary continues to recover from his ACL tear.
“He possesses everything we're looking for: his height, weight, speed, all those tangible things and, really, what's intangible is his mind,” Rebrovich said of Van Ness.
Because of all Van Ness offers, Rebrovich foresees keeping him on the field even when Gary returns, creating a three-pronged attack. Asked if he could keep Gary, Van Ness and Preston Smith in the same packages, Rebrovich responded, "All of the above. I’m selfish. I love my group. I love that family we’ve established. I’d love to have all six of them on the grass if need be."
Despite Rebrovich no longer being the outside linebackers coach, his focus on pass rush gives him the confidence to make game plans around the versatile trio.
"Whether it’s an outside linebacker or it is a defensive end or it’s a nose or a defensive tackle," he said. "They’re all encompassing because at the end of the day we’ve got to affect that quarterback somehow, some way."
Kenneth Odumegwu is pushing coaches as well as himself
The addition of International Pathway player Kenneth Odumegwu has provided a spark to the defense, as coaches find new ways to bring along the Nigerian defensive end. Odumegwu has never played a game of American football, only coming to know the sport in the past year and a half after attending a camp put on by fellow Nigerian and New York Giants legend, Osi Umenyiora.
As coaches have spent more time with Odumegwu, in rookie minicamp and ahead of OTAs, his raw talent and desire to learn has pushed everyone around him.
“From the coaching perspective, it's one of the best experiences I've had in my life,” Rebrovich said. “It makes me have to coach on a daily basis on the most mundane things you take for granted at the highest level.”
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Rebrovich went on to share that some of those mundane things are simply explaining what a hashmark is, which in turn "settles you down" as a coach. But the 6-foot-6, 259-pound end provides so much possibility that even Rebrovich is jealous of his potential.
"He’s got height, weight, speed. I don’t know how many of you guys have seen him out there yet and, if you have, I wish I was him," Rebrovich said. "That’s the truth. So he has those things. It’s just the mental part of things ... there’s a lot of mental things that go through this game and we can do all the testing and running and times and all this, but when that ball’s snapped, you’ve got to have some reaction, you’ve got to have some eyes, you’ve got to have some vision, your body’s got to process it. That’s the clay that we’re trying to mold."
Expect a big jump from Devonte Wyatt
Second-year defensive lineman Devonte Wyatt finally started to put things together at the end of his rookie year. Forced into more playing time following injuries, Wyatt, a first-round draft pick for the Packers last April, was a developmental player for the coaching staff with a high upside. It’s an upside he finally started to climb against the Detroit Lions.
In the Packers' Week 18 loss to the Lions, Wyatt registered his first full sack. After returning to the sidelines, he told Packers defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery, “coach, I’m starting to get it.” Now, Montgomery anticipates a big difference in the young player.
“Year one to year two, I expect a massive jump from him," Montgomery said. "He knows the defense much better.”
Wyatt finished his rookie season with 15 tackles, 1.5 sacks, a forced fumble and pass defended in 16 games.