'Slinky' Could Be Fun and Wonderful Toy

Tori Gurley — aka 'Slinky' — has used his exceptional height to rise to the top of the bubble players entering tonight's preseason finale against Kansas City. If the Packers depart from the norm and keep six receivers, it might be because of this former basketball star.

In the main locker room at Lambeau Field, Green Bay Packers wide receiver Donald Driver sat at his locker and chatted with several reporters, as he'd done countless other times during his record-setting career.

Across the way, fellow receiver Tori Gurley stood at his locker in the auxiliary locker room — aka, "The Green Mile" — and talked excitedly to a few other reporters, as he'd done just a time or two during his month-long stay in Green Bay.

Asked about the undrafted Gurley, Driver raised an eyebrow and said, "Who?"

It wasn't that Driver didn't know about the 6-foot-4 Gurley. To the contrary.

"That's ‘Slinky,'" Driver said with a smile, seemingly correcting the reporter on the lanky receiver's name. "You don't know what his legs are going to do."

Relayed Driver's comments, Gurley laughed.

"Donald gave me the nickname ‘Slinky,'" Gurley said. "I'm taller, (and) my legs, they don't look as quick as all the other guys, but in the open field, I'm something to deal with. It's sticking because everybody calls me ‘Slinky' now. It's something I embrace and I enjoy it."

Because of the wealth of talent at wide receiver at the start of training camp, Gurley's odds of making the team were about the same as the Slinky becoming a wildly popular toy again in this age of video games and high-tech gadgets.

Driver, Greg Jennings, James Jones, Jordy Nelson and rookie second-round pick Randall Cobb seemed like the five receivers the Packers would take into the regular season. If third-year player Brett Swain and Chastin West, who had spent his rookie season on the practice squad, appeared to have no chance of making the roster, then what were the odds of a guy like Gurley, who played just two seasons at South Carolina before surprising his classmates and stunning his coaches by turning pro?

Instead, Gurley has routinely took advantage of his height to make plays. He made what coach Mike McCarthy called "the play of the game" with a 12-yard reception that set up the winning field goal against Indianapolis on Friday, then caught three long passes from Aaron Rodgers during Sunday's practice — including a big-time adjustment on an underthrown ball to cut inside Davon House to make a leaping grab at the sideline. He's got tremendous hands — both he and the school say he didn't drop a pass last year — though he dropped two passes at Tuesday's practice.

"Because your instincts take over," Gurley said in explaining his quick transition to the pro game. "You've still got to play football. The game hasn't changed. It's just faster because we have better athletes. Our coaches and quarterbacks do a good job of putting us in position to be successful."

Receivers coach Edgar Bennett was surprisingly quiet when asked about Gurley on Monday. It was as if he didn't want to let the cat out of the bag for a prospect they'd like to stash on the practice squad.

"He continues to get better," Bennett said. "He continues to get better."

When this reporter jabbed Bennett about his guarded comments, he simply laughed for a few seconds and waited for the next question.

Regardless of position, players at the bottom of the depth chart must make an impact on special teams. While Gurley isn't a No. 1 on any of the four core units, he's blocked five punts at practice.

"It's playing Beamer ball, as well as the things Coach Slocum teaches," mentioning his special teams coach at South Carolina, Shane Beamer, and the Packers' Shawn Slocum. "Coach Beamer, we really focused on blocking punts. We wanted to block it. That mentality, I brought it here and it's translating nicely."

His height and length made him a fine basketball player, and he was considering playing basketball at South Carolina until he decided to give the NFL a try as a 23-year-old redshirt sophomore. His father, Norris, who died in a car accident in 2008, played basketball alongside former NBA star Dell Curry at Virginia Tech. He threw down his first dunk as a sixth-grader and played with Dell's son, current NBA star Stephon Curry, on an AAU basketball team coached by Dell Curry and former NBA legend David Thompson. He helped lead Rock Hill (S.C.) High School to state championships in football and basketball and committed to playing both sports at North Carolina but was ruled academically ineligible. He wound up enrolling at New Hampton Prep School in New Hampshire, where he played both sports, before choosing to focus initially on football at South Carolina.

His friends on South Carolina's basketball team encouraged him to play basketball after the 2010 football season. Instead — joking that he has gray hair — he decided to follow in the footsteps of one of his idols, former South Carolina receiver Sidney Rice, and declare for the NFL draft despite two years of eligibility remaining. Rice went in the first round to Minnesota in 2007; Gurley wasn't one of the 28 receivers selected in April.

"Yeah, at one point (I was disappointed), and then that just made me work even harder," he said. "I understood that special teams are going to be my ticket. I found a niche for blocking punts, which is something I was doing at USC. I'm just giving guys a hard time coming off the edge. We're making everybody better — I'm getting better at it and the punt team's getting better."

Gurley has one more chance to make an impression — though, with the depth at receiver, he could score five touchdowns tonight against the Chiefs and it might not matter. He has the right attitude about his prospects and understands that failing to make the team won't be a knock on his talents so much as the roster restraints. Still, as the saying goes, you can't coach height, which is why he might rate a notch above the impressive West if the Packers decide to keep six receivers.

"I'm 6-4 and I'm different than the other guys," Gurley said. "I can stretch the field and I work hard. Hopefully, that'll be a great recipe to make this team."

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport.

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