Saturday notes: Stoneburner learns from rookie lessons

Weston Hodkiewicz
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As cordial as the conversations may be, there's an undeniable truth to sitting inside an NFL position room this time of year.

Green Bay Packers tight end Jake Stoneburner rides a four-wheeler to training camp practice.

In a few weeks, there won't be enough room for everyone once final cuts commence.

Jake Stoneburner understands arguably the closest battle on the Green Bay Packers' roster is taking place at his position, tight end, where seven players are vying to replace Jermichael Finley's production in some shape or form.

The Packers' penchant for tight ends usually results in them keeping four, sometimes five, stored at the position, but this competition still will generate causalities.

Camp already has collected one, Colt Lyerla, who may miss the remainder of camp with a knee injury, but fellow rookies Richard Rodgers and Justin Perillo are still chasing veterans Andrew Quarless, Ryan Taylor, Brandon Bostick and Jake Stoneburner in search for a spot.

"It's an intense competition," Stoneburner said. "You wouldn't know it from us talking, but we all know in the back of our heads that some of us aren't going to be there."

Stoneburner, who signed to the practice squad after being cut last year, was promoted to the active roster in October and played in the final nine games of the season.

It was an adventure at times for the Ohio State alumnus, who never had played special teams before and was converting back to tight end from receiver in Urban Meyer's spread offense.

Stoneburner admits he "wasn't the best" at special teams, but coach Shawn Slocum said he's seen improvement from the 6-foot-3, 249-pound tight end after a rookie season when his inexperience led to a few costly penalties.

One of the things Stoneburner focused on this offseason was becoming a better overall athlete. In the past, he would "kill" himself trying to get stronger for the upcoming college season. This year, he tried to train smarter and outside the box.

Part of that mindset saw him finally relent and attend yoga classes with his mother and sister two or three times-a-week when he was back home in Columbus.

Hot yoga, regular yoga, palettes – he did it all. On most days, he was the only male in the room.

"My hips they said were tight, so instead of lifting all the time why don't I go do yoga and stretch them out and become a better athlete?" Stoneburner said. "So far, I can tell a difference when it comes to blocker. I feel more power in the hips and I feel a little looser out there."

The Packers like tight ends for their versatility and special-teams acumen. It's a near-certainty they'll again take four into the regular season as they have to past few seasons.

Like the other tight ends, Stoneburner has hauled in his share of highlight-reel catches in camp, but it's going to take a lot more than that to replace someone like Finley, who possessed a rare combination of size, quickness and ability.

Stoneburner still has practice-squad eligibility since he only played in nine games last season – the single-season limit to stay eligible – but there's only one option in his mind.

Every catch this summer brings Stoneburner closer to his goal. Every rep on special teams another chance to show how far the former Ohio State offensive specialist has grown.

He's not Jermichael Finley, but he hopes to be a part of the answer if the seventh-year tight end doesn't return.

"You can't replace someone like Jermichael. His athleticism, his stature, his size. Jermichael, himself," Stoneburner said. "You can't really replace that but I feel like as a whole and a whole group we can go out there and replace the things he did. It may take two or three of us – that's just a credit to how good Jermichael is in my opinion – but I think we're doing a good job of him not being there and trying to make plays while he's not there."

Green Bay Packers cornerback Demetri Goodson during OTA practice at Ray Nitschke Field.

Goodson start

Rookie cornerback Demetri Goodson's early camp struggles haven't come as a surprise to position coach Joe Whitt.

Goodson, a sixth-round pick out of Baylor, has a unique background. He started college as a point guard on the Gonzaga basketball team before switching to football in 2011. He's older (25) than your standard rookie, but the Packers were drawn to athleticism and upside.

His inexperience has been evident in camp. He's been on the receiving end of a few red-zone touchdown passes in team periods and missed his chance at a deep interception last week in single coverage against receiver Alex Gillett, who instead made one of the finest catches so far in camp at his expense.

Goodson is battling practice-squad holdover Jumal Rolle for one of the reserve cornerback spots. It's a work in progress, but Whitt believes Goodson is close to putting it all together.

"He's struggling at times," Whitt said. "But in my mind, he's right on time because I expected that. I expect him to have some bumps in the road because of his transition. I understand how to get him playing by the third, fourth preseason game. You should see a guy who is playing with confidence and making plays."

Barrington back

As a rookie last year, Sam Barrington beat out 2012 fifth-round pick Terrell Manning for the fourth inside linebacker spot on the Packers' opening 53-man roster.

This year, he's on the other side of it trying to hold off a strong charge from undrafted rookies Joe Thomas and Jake Doughty, who each have made plays during camp.

Barrington finished last year on injured reserve with a hamstring injury. He played in seven games with two tackles and vowed to be better conditioned for the season when he returned.

He stayed close to veteran Jamari Lattimore in the classroom the rest of the season. He's been stout against the run early in camp. He should get a lot of work against Tennessee with the Packers wanting to be smart with veteran starters A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones.

"I saw it as fatigue," Barrington said of the injury. "Hey, I even looked at myself and said was it something I could've done better here or there? It's just football things happen some times. Throughout the course of the offseason, I decided I make sure I put myself in position to where there's the least possibility of that happening to me whether it's working on my flexibility, strengthen the small muscles, cold tub, hot tub, anything I can do."

Green Bay Packers receiver Jeff Janis looks on during training camp practice at Ray Nitschke Field.

Janis returns

Jeff Janis' bout with shingles cost him the first week of camp, but not his chance at either of the Packers' return jobs.

Janis was incredibly productive during his time at NCAA Division II Saginaw Valley State. His coaches felt he could have been dynamic on returns, but he was too valuable offensively.

A seventh-round pick in May's draft, the 6-foot-3, 219-pound receiver will need to impress on special teams to make a bid for the No. 5 receiver job. He certainly has the measurables.

He recorded a 4.42-second time in the 40-yard dash at the NFL combine and was among the top performers in both the three-cone drill (6.64 seconds) and bench press (20 reps).

"I thought he looked really good in the OTAs," Slocum said. "It's been unfortunate he's been out here for a few days but we're looking forward to getting him back, getting him in the mix and seeing where he fits and what he can do for us on special teams."

It's uncertain if Janis will play against the Titans – his first padded practice was Wednesday – but Slocum said somewhere around 50 players could alternate on his special-teams units.

Swing game

It's going to be difficult for the Packers to replace Don Barclay, but they're confident a new swing tackle will emerge from their litany of reserves.

One intriguing candidate is Aaron Adams, the only player who spent all 18 weeks on the Packers' practice squad last season. The former Eastern Kentucky tackle put on 10 pounds this offseason and has been developed in the same way the Packers brought Barclay along in 2012.

Adams has played both left and right tackle with the second-team offensive line in camp, but also worked at guard last season.

"Don is definitely a good one to go off of that," Adams said. "He was able to do everything and that's what made him so valuable. It definitely hurts us to lose him, but he definitely set the example as far as you have to be able to do every position to be valuable to the team." and follow him on Twitter @WesHod.

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