Packers training camp rolls on

Players working out the kinks in prep for Family Night
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Leader photo by Morgan Rode Aaron Rodgers, left, and Brett Hundley fire passes during a drill on Friday.

The Green Bay Packers enter in the 2018-19 season hoping to rebound from what was a forgettable 2017-18 season.

The team failed to make the postseason for the first time since 2008 and went through plenty of turnover during the offseason.

One of the franchise’s biggest moves since the team last stepped on the field was releasing longtime wide receiver Jordy Nelson during the offseason. The news came as a shock to many and left them wondering who might help fill the void.

Devante Adams became the team’s clear No. 1 receiver, with Randall Cobb also figuring into the mix for a plenty of looks. Outside of those two, the team did not roster any proven pass-catchers.

Just three days after Nelson was released, new Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst inked tight end Jimmy Graham to a three-year deal. Most tight ends are thought of as block-first players, but Graham is known most for his catching ability and immediately became one of quarterback Aaron Rodgers biggest weapons.

While any quarterback and receiving threat need time to get on the same page, its clear that Rodgers and Graham are quickly working out the kinks.

The two have connected for several touchdowns during the course of the team’s training camp, which started back on July 26. Friday’s camp might have been the most impressive showing yet from the duo, as Graham and Rodgers burned the defense for a few more scores during 11-on-11 scrimmages.

The Packers offense got another good piece of news Friday when head coach Mike McCarthy indicated that offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga was ready to return from the torn right ACL he sustained last November.

Linebacker Nick Perry is now the only player on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list and the team remains hopeful that he will be ready by week one, a Sunday night home game against the Chicago Bears.

The return of Rodgers from his collarbone injury helps alleviate some of the offensive issues the team faced last year and should help the team contend for a NFC North title again this season. If the team wants to reach the Super Bowl though, a healthy Rodgers can only do so much. The bolstered defense will need to improve significantly.

The Packers spent their first three NFL Draft picks on defensive players, taking cornerbacks Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson in rounds one and two, respectively, before selecting linebacker Oren Burks in the third round. Green Bay also signed Muhammad Wilkerson and brought back Tramon Williams through free agency.

The team didn’t stop there, as a needed change at defensive coordinator was made. Green Bay fired Dom Capers and brought in Mike Pettine.

Through the first few days of camp, Pettine’s defense was able to force Rodgers into a handful of interceptions, a rarity for the QB. Only time will tell how quickly players can learn and execute Pettine’s scheme, which many consider complex.

Learning a new playbook is never an easy task for a rookie or a player joining a new team. Teams will often have veteran players in the system mentoring those around them. With new coordinators on each side of the ball (Joe Philbin returned as the offensive coordinator), the Packers are in the unique situation where each player on the team is learning new concepts at the same time.

Through the first few days of practice, the Packers rookies are adjusting to NFL life while also trying to soak in as much information as possible.

“We are trying to come together as a unit. We have a bunch of new guys in the secondary, me, Josh (Jackson) and Tramon (Williams), and we need to build that chemistry,” Alexander said following Friday’s practice. “We are looking forward to building a good bond together and just trying to continue to make plays.”

“It’s a marathon, not a sprint. You’re not going to be perfect the first couple days,” Jackson said. “You got to come in with the mindset to get better each and every day. You can’t get too overanxious and put yourself in a hole by one or two days of practice.”

While the rookie cornerbacks have to try and fortify a secondary that has lacked playmakers the past few seasons, Burks will likely be called upon to fill a recent void that popped up. The rookie out of Vanderbilt might play a vital role at inside linebacker after Jake Ryan tore his ACL on Monday.

“It’s that next man up mentality, you never know when something like that might happen,” Burks said. “You hate to see it and he is a great player but it’s an opportunity for me to show what I have. I’m trying to be the best version of myself everyday and continue to grow.”

The rookies next chance to improve their game comes on Saturday, when the team hosts Packers Family Night. While the event has turned into a practice with some live 11-on-11 contact sprinkled in, it will be unlike any other practice this season.

More than 78,000 tickets were distributed for this year’s Family Night, marking the 12th time in 18 years that it’s been sold out. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. and the team will be introduced at 7:30 p.m.

The rookie class hopes to use the evening as a springboard for the preseason, which opens Thursday against the Tennessee Titans.

“It’s kind of a dry rehearsal for the first preseason game,” Burks said. “It’s sold out, 78-plus thousand people are going to be there, screaming their heads off. I’m looking forward to it.”