Sutton Sizes Up the Competition

The undrafted 5-foot-8 running back is turning heads and defying stereotypes during training camp. One of those who are impressed is offensive coordinator Joe Philbin.

If you want a cheesy cliché, how about this wheel of cheddar: Dynamite comes in small packages.

That lame and past-its-prime phrase, however, fits in the case of undrafted running back Tyrell Sutton. The 5-foot-8 former Northwestern star is making his case to break into a depth chart filled with four players who have NFL experience.

The reason is apparent to anyone who's watched practice on Ray Nitshcke Field this summer — a list that includes offensive coordinator Joe Philbin. When Sutton gets the ball, good things happen.

"I really like what he's doing," Philbin said. "This kid has had a very fine camp. He's very intelligent. He's a smart kid. He's working hard. You notice him when you watch the film. He's one of the things that you notice when you're sitting here on the sideline, and when we go back up and watch the film as a coaching staff, you're looking for guys that grab your attention, and he's done that on a number of different occasions. He's got good, quick feet. He's not bashful in pass protection. It appears that he catches the ball pretty well."

Sutton's prolific career at Northwestern was derailed by injuries as a junior and a senior. He rushed for 3,886 yards, added 149 receptions and scored 37 total touchdowns as a four-year starter. He was at his best as a freshman, piling up 1,870 all-purpose yards and 18 touchdowns to be voted the Big Ten's best freshman.

Nonetheless, Sutton went undrafted, victimized by a triple whammy of the injuries, lack of ideal size and a slow 40-yard time of 4.75 seconds at the Scouting Combine.

What made Sutton a success against Big Ten foes is what's making him a success during training camp. His 40-yard time might be unimpressive, but his ability to get through a hole and cut on a dime has made him a handful, even for the starting defense. On one run last week, Sutton charged through a hole, stopped abruptly to let the defender fly past, and then continued his path through the heart of the defense.

As for his size? Just ask safety Charlie Peprah, who blitzed up the middle only to be knocked on his butt by the 213-pound Sutton's block. It was a ringing answer to those who take one look at the really short guy and assume he can't play in this sports populated by 250-pound linebackers and 310-pound linemen.

"Yeah, just doing my job," Sutton said with a laugh. "You know, critics can say whatever they want. They say he's 5-8 and 213, he can't block anybody. He's a smaller back, so he's only able to shake and move. I've got some pop in me. I can hit somebody. That's what they do: They stereotype me. My tape speaks for itself."

Not that Sutton is perfect. He failed to pick up blitzing cornerbacks Will Blackmon and Tramon Williams on Tuesday night. But wanting to block is half the battle, and it's a trait Sutton possesses.

"Blocked? I blocked all the time (at Northwestern)," he said. "I was always in there on third downs, and I was the guy who always wanted to go in there and block. Coach will tell you that I was the best blocking running back that we had. I don't understand where they get those critiques from, but hey, it doesn't really matter."

Sutton had several offers after the draft but chose Green Bay for a few reasons. First, at the ripe old age of 26, Ryan Grant is the senior member of the halfbacks — a group that includes third-year players Brandon Jackson and DeShawn Wynn and second-year pro Kregg Lumpkin. Because they're all young men, Sutton figured he would fit into the group. Second, the native of Akron, Ohio, grew up cheering for the Packers and Cowboys and looked forward to being coached by Edgar Bennett.

"What better coaching can you get than from a legend? Just to be able to get the extra teaching from all these guys, you can't even put it into words," Sutton said.

Sutton smiled when hearing Philbin's praise, but Sutton — the leading rusher in Ohio prep history and the No. 2 rusher in Northwestern history — knows better than to get too worked up over a coach's positive feedback.

"It's kind of a personal thing," Sutton said. "You should know if you're doing well enough to where you're not going to have the coaches come up and say something to you every single time. It's a professional level. You get into the swing of things and you know if you're doing things right. Obviously, if you're doing things right, coach shouldn't have to say anything to you because it should be a regular thing. It should just be a consistent thing."

Heading into Saturday's preseason opener, Sutton remains fifth on the depth chart. He knows that none of the backups has distinguished himself in their short NFL careers, but he also knows that he's the underdog. He's taking a team-first attitude into this battle.

"I'm just out there playing hard, trying to make sure I'm doing everything to get this team prepared for the season," Sutton said. "If I'm not going to be on the team, then, hey, at least they saw something that could potentially help them during the season."


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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 and Facebook under Bill Huber.


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