"It's hard to tell anything without the pads," said Poppinga, selected by the Packers in the fourth round of the April NFL draft.
Poppinga's not complaining. As a senior at Brigham Young University, he was moved from defensive end to outside linebacker prior to the 2004 season. He quickly adjusted and earned all-MWC first-team honors for the third straight season. He ranked third on BYU with a career-high 79 tackles (35-solo), five sacks and 12 tackles for losses.
Since he was taken 125th overall by Green Bay in April, Poppinga has had time to take the skills that he has learned as a defensive end and linebacker in college, and apply them to the strongside linebacker position. Linebackers coach Mark Duffner played Poppinga exclusively at the strongside position behind Na'il Diggs during the June minicamp, but Poppinga also will learn the middle linebacker position as well.
"Last year was the first year in about four years that I played linebacker, which felt pretty nice," Poppinga said. "I didn't even have a chance to work at it the last year of my collegiate career. So, it's great to train there and have coaches working with you to develop in that area." Poppinga is noted for his aggressiveness and ability to hit. Duffner admires those traits, and others on the coaching staff are anxious to see the physical side of Poppinga. While it will be difficult for Poppinga to beat out Diggs for a starting job, he is well-suited for special teams.
"I see real effort. He's a real competitive guy, real intense," said Duffner. "I've got to get him, sometimes, to see the bigger picture. He kind of gets focused in a little too tight on one particular target sometimes. But a lot of energy and a lot of competitiveness out of him. And also some good toughness."
Poppinga, who turns 26 on Sept. 21, is one of the more mature rookies in the league. He put his football career on hold while serving a Mormon mission in Uruguay from 1998 to 2000. He and his wife, Brooke, celebrated the birth of their first child last year.
The Packers are hoping to get more pop out of their linebacker corp this season, and on special teams. Poppinga feels he can contribute in both areas. At 6-foot-3, 245 pounds, he has the size to take on fullbacks and lineman, and above average speed to cover running backs or tight ends as a pass defender, or to chase down a return specialist. Along with his maturity, Poppinga has the tools to make an immediate impact with the Packers and in his kind of town.
"I love it. It's a beautiful experience and a great place to play football," Poppinga said about Titletown. "It's a place where it's 100 percent football. As I said when I first came here, this is where football began in a sense. To be in this kind of environment and to be with fans who are passionate about the game ... and I'm a passionate person about the game, so it's a great fit."