Observations from rookie camp

Which of the young Packers stood out during their first professional football practice? We've got the answers after observing in the Don Hutson Center on Friday.

When the NFL season kicks off in a bit more than four months, the shoulder pads won't be left in the locker room.

So, much of what took place inside the Don Hutson Center during Friday's rookie camp has little to do with reality.

With that said, here is this scribe's first impressions of the eight draft picks, 11 undrafted rookies, 21 tryout rookies and six first-year players who were on the field for the first of three practices this weekend.

— Not surprisingly, considering probably 35 of the players on the field won't be with the team when the final cuts are made, first-round draft picks B.J. Raji and Clay Matthews III looked like men among boys.

During a one-on-one pass-rushing period, Raji blew past tryout center Ryan Shuman. Seriously, Raji used a swim move to get past Shuman before Shuman was completely out of his stance.

Raji was stopped on his three other attempts, but his burst was evident again during an 11-on-11 period. He used his speed — not to mention a well-place forearm in the sternum of the offensive tackle — to get into the backfield. He's not just a big guy pushing his way to the quarterback. He's got amazing footwork for a 330-pound man.

Raji spent about equal snaps at nose tackle and left defensive end.

His athleticism was evident when he got the ball as the "kick returner" during a coverage drill. He juked his way past one of the defenders.

Matthews, meanwhile, just looks like a football player. He's got everything you want. He's fast, smart and aggressive. It's clear that Matthews played linebacker at USC. He's not one of the highly touted 4-3 defensive ends that would have had to make the transition to outside linebacker in a 3-4. Everything looks natural.

Matthews spent all of his snaps at right outside linebacker. He's a natural in coverage, he's fast and he's aggressive. He slammed tryout running back Darrell Blackman to the turf on a running play. These are "noncontact drills," remember.

The coaches aren't afraid to coach him, though. During a special-teams drill, Matthews stuck his shoulder into the runner. That won't cut it in the NFL, he was told by special teams assistant Curtis Fuller.

— As for the rookie offensive linemen, fifth-round pick Jamon Meredith got the bulk of his snaps at left tackle. I asked coach Mike McCarthy if Meredith was at left tackle out of necessity or because the staff sees him playing that position as a possible heir to Chad Clifton. McCarthy said he wants to take a "long look" at Meredith at left tackle.

Fourth-round pick T.J. Lang got about equal reps at right tackle and guard. His position is up in the air, but he certainly has a chance to put himself in the running at the vacant right tackle spot.

It's almost impossible to make a meaningful critique of the linemen when they're not wearing pads. Nonetheless, Lang won all three of his reps in the one-on-one pass-rushing drill, including a victory over Raji. Meredith's quick feet were evident in him winning his battles.

— Fullback Quinn Johnson, a fifth-round pick, had an early false start and slipped and fell during a kick-coverage drill. Johnson, who caught just five passes at LSU, says he has good hands, and that was evident when he made a one-handed grab on a poorly thrown ball. Johnson was drafted for his blocking, and those skills just won't show up in a setting like this.

— The sixth-round picks had their moments. Defensive end Jarius Wynn showed some definite pass-rushing potential in winning his first two one-on-ones. Cornerback Brandon Underwood, who's got the size at 6-foot-1, speed and long arms to succeed, had an interception against Brian Johnson.

— The seventh-round pick, outside linebacker Brad Jones, was one of the most impressive players on the field. He's athletic and clearly has a ton of experience in a 3-4. He played left outside linebacker, which is Aaron Kampman's position. His best moment came when he sniffed out a slant route and jumped into the passing lane to make a deflection.

— If one of the two tryout quarterbacks gets signed after this camp, it's going to be Tulsa's David Johnson. Johnson has a big-time fastball and he's a lot more accurate than Utah's Brian Johnson.

Of course, it's hard to judge quarterbacks in this kind of setting. They got the playbook on Thursday, and they're throwing to receivers they've never met. But David Johnson throws a superior ball, though he did drop two center-quarterback exchanges.

Brian Johnson's one strong moment came when he scrambled from pressure and threw a dart to tryout tight end Branden Ledbetter.

— Either undrafted rookie running back Tyrell Sutton is fast, or he just looks fast because the 5-foot-8 back's legs are in overdrive. Sutton, the former Northwestern star, certainly has a chance to make a run at a roster spot this summer. He seems to have good vision, and he's got superb hands out of the backfield. The Packers dearly need a running back to emerge as a receiving threat. Plus, Sutton put his 213 pounds and natural leverage advantage to work by running over tryout defensive end Rhyan Anderson.

"He jumped out today," McCarthy said, saying Sutton "definitely has a chance."


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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. Bill also is giving Facebook and Twitter a try. Find him on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook.


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