Free agents get the chance of their lives

Several of the undrafted players at this weekend's camp have a chance to make roster,'s Bob Fox says.

The Green Bay Packers are conducting a rookie orientation camp this weekend.  Behind the closed doors of the Don Hutson Center, the nine draft picks, 11 undrafted free agents who have been signed to contacts and another 19 tryout participants will be getting their first taste of the NFL.

Among those there on a tryout basis is Justin Beaver, the former University of Wisconsin-Whitewater star. Jobs will be tough to find.  But every year, there seems to be at least one free agent that makes the team, and a few others usually make the practice squad.

 Last year, halfback/fullback Corey White was in Beaver's position. White had to survive a tryout first, then had to perform in training camp and preseason games. White was among the Packers' last cuts, and he ended up going on the practice squad.

 Defensive tackle Daniel Muir was a free agent last year, too. So were cornerback Tramon Williams and offensive tackle Orrin Thompson.  It's a matter of listening to your coaches and playing well when the time comes. It's about taking advantage of a golden opportunity to win a job on an NFL team.

So, what free agents will perhaps gain a spot on the Packers' roster? 

Beaver and Georgia's Kregg Lumpkins are among the running backs competing with last year's backs. I would think only Ryan Grant has a roster spot assured, although Brandon Jackson looked pretty good late in the season and playoffs. The rest of the jobs will be open among Vernand Morency, DeShawn Wynn, Noah Herron and White, and now perhaps Lumpkin and Beaver.

 Another player with an opportunity is punter Ken DeBauche, who has a chance to unseat Jon Ryan. Ryan has gotten better throughout his career in Green Bay, but DeBauche — a native of the Green Bay suburb of Suamico who was a four-year starter at Wisconsin — has a good enough leg, directionally punts well and can hold on kicks.

The guy who will be snapping to the punter and holder will be changing, as well, since Rob Davis retired. Notre Dame's J.J. Jansen has an excellent opportunity as he battles with the untested Thomas Gafford to win the job as long snapper.

 The biggest obstacles facing the free agents will be at wide receiver, where the roster boasts 13 players, including last year's "Fab Five" and draft picks Jordy Nelson and Brett Swain.

Linebackers always have a chance to make the club, or at least make the practice squad. Spencer Havner, who with White and Gafford is one of seven first-year players at this weekend's camp, has been on the practice squad the last two years. The undrafted Marcus Riley is undersized, but he had one of the best hits of the year in college football when he knocked Hawaii quarterback Colt Brennan out cold. 

An undrafted tight end has a chance to make the roster, as well. The Packers have starter Donald Lee, third-round pick Jermichael Finley and Tory Humphrey, who spent last season on injured reserve. That gives Maryland's Joey Haynos and Northwest Missouri State's Mike Peterson a chance to be the No. 3 tight end.

All player wants is an opportunity. This weekend, 39 rookies are getting a chance to vie for jobs on the 53-man roster and the practice squad. If they're lucky, the players will have four months to prove their worth.  The opportunity is knocking.  Who will answer the door and seize that opportunity?

Bob Fox is a frequent contributor to E-mail him at

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