Undrafted Gunter getting noticed this offseason
Count LaDarius Gunter as one undrafted free agent who left a positive first impression on the Green Bay Packers during the offseason program.
So far, the Packers coaches like what they see in the 6-foot-1, 201-pound cornerback, who registered 111 tackles and six interceptions in 37 games (30 starts) at the University of Miami (Fla.) prior to going undrafted last month.
Gunter's production dipped from 46 tackles and three interceptions for 118 yards as a junior to 28 tackles and two picks during his senior year. A slow time in the 40-yard dash (4.69 seconds at the NFL combine) also didn't help his case.
Since his arrival in Green Bay, Gunter has impressed the coaching staff with his technique and a strong on-field showing throughout the offseason program.
With Casey Hayward sidelined with a foot injury, Gunter joined Micah Hyde, and rookies Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins taking reps with the starting defense during this week's mini-camp practices. Cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt confirmed Wednesday that Gunter has earned the snaps.
Before mini-camp wrapped up Thursday, the rookie cornerback grabbed his first interception in the end zone off backup quarterback Matt Blanchard. It was one more confidence-builder going into the five-week break before training camp.
"It does a lot, that I showed them I could play and I'm not a slow guy like everyone thought I was," Gunter said. "But at the same time, it shows I have to work, because I know it's going to be hard for a free agent to come in and make the team. So I'm going to have to go hard on special teams and just go all my little details exactly how the coaches want it and just be a football player."
Gunter knows the natural parallels people draw between him and Sam Shields. His fellow Miami alumnus is brought up in nearly every interview Gunter conducts.
There are worse players you could be compared to. Shields made the Packers as an undrafted free agent in 2010 and has since become a No. 1 cornerback commanding a $10 million per year contract.
"That's the reason why I came to Green Bay," said Gunter of Shields. "They love free agents and they let the best guy play. So if I can compete with the best of them, I have a shot."
Gunter wasn't sure how much competing he'd do after injuring his neck against Virginia on Nov. 23, 2013. He was carted off the field and airlifted to a nearby hospital to the horror of his family looking on.
It turned out to be only a neck strain. Gunter missed the next game against Pittsburgh, but returned in time for the Russell Athletic Bowl.
"I was scared at the point that they put me on the cart and carted me off the field," Gunter said. "But at the same time I knew it wasn't anything that major because I was still moving my toes and my fingers, so that wasn't a case of me being scared but a lot of my family members, people of that nature, they were very concerned."
When asked what happened in the 40, Gunter chalks his slow times at the combine and his pro day to a "bad day." He believes he plays faster on the field and the Packers are beginning to see what he can do.
Gunter can't do anything about the past. Right now, he's channeling the skepticism about his speed into motivation to follow in Shields' footsteps to a roster spot.
"I use it as a chip on my shoulder each and every day," Gunter said.
-- firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @WesHod