NFL training camps are just around the corner. For most players, this means putting the wraps on off-season, um, activities and preparing themselves for the ensuing meat grinder of the next four weeks. For me though, it means yet another season of what's become one of the most compelling reality shows on television: HBO's Hard Knocks.
Even if you're not a Bengals fan (and if you are, sorry) the reasons for watching Hard Knocks are numerous. What other show can you get a glimpse of the inner workings of an NFL front office one minute, and see a 6'2, 225 lb. safety locker room twerking the next? But what I enjoy most about Hard Knocks isn't the voyeuristic nature of Coaches' meetings or even the absurdity of watching two overgrown men forced to share a bunk bed, but rather, the underdog stories.
Where today's most well-known athletes are their own brand and have their own shoe deals and commercials and small countries just off the coast of Malaysia named after them, we tend to forget about these underdogs. The grinders. Most of them come from small schools and even smaller towns. Despite often having the largest amount of sheer will and determination among the camp bodies, the sobering reality for many of these players is that their odds of making it in the NFL might be the smallest thing they've known yet.
But that's just what makes watching these stories unfold so fascinating. These aren't players battling for their next big contract. They're fighting to not go back to stocking shelves or laying bricks. Plenty of people work everyday in jobs even less glamorous, but the willingness these players show in throwing themselves into the perpetual ice tub of training camp abuse despite the odds makes it, well, pretty great to see when they do make it.
So who are some of the Packers underdog players? Let's take a look:
Charles Johnson - WR
Admittedly, this is somewhat driven my giant mancrush on him, but Johnson's measurables (6'2 215, 4.3 speed) are arguably as good, if not better, than any other receiver on the Packers roster. The uphill battle he faces however, is that the Packers are already decently loaded at the position with proven players like Jordy, Jones and Cobb. If Johnson can stay healthy, show good hands and prove he's more polished than his small school experience would suggest, there's no reason to think Johnson can't make the roster.
Terell Manning - ILB
In our season preview we have Manning making the team so maybe he's not that much of an underdog. But for me, there's no other linebacker I'm more intrigued to see. Ted Thompson has an impressive draft history with players he's traded up to get (Clay Matthews, Casey Hayward, Morgan Burnett for example) and although he was just a fifth round pick last year, Manning was off to a solid start when he ended up starring in a real life version of ‘Contagion' by contracting a terrible stomach virus that threw virtually his entire year off track. Now healthy, Manning should push Brad Jones and Robert Francois for playing time opposite the blocking dummy they call A.J. Hawk.
Myles White - WR
The Packers seem to be doing something that should probably scare the crap out of the rest of the teams in the league - adding even more speed. The crazy thing about that notion is even with just one true burner on the team (Cobb) last year, the Packers offense was among the league's best. With White, they can add another missile to an already potent arsenal. The Louisiana Tech product torched the surface at his pro day with a 4.42 40-yard dash. And with Aaron Rodgers already liking what he sees, White could be well on his way from undrafted underdog to a regular target on gameday.
Gilbert Pena - DT
Pena is the epitome of the underdog guys you root for in camp. He's already 26 years old, but a couple of things help his case. First, he's freaking huge (and named Gilbert!) at 330+ lbs. Given the way the Packers line seemed to be pushed around with relative ease last year, any big, strong bodies in the middle will help. Second, the reason he's 26 is because he delayed going to school to care for his ailing Mother who was diagnosed with thyroid cancer when Pena was a senior in high school. Said Pena in an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "I watched her work three jobs just to support me and my two sisters," said Peña. "In my heart that was the best thing for me to do, the right thing to do. The least I could do." Yeah, I'm pulling for Gilbert Pena.
Brandon Bostick - TE
Can I just give him the nickname ‘Boom Bostick' right now and get it out of the way? Okay, then. Besides owning one of those seemingly made-for-football names, Brandon Bostick enters his second year with the Packers as an underdog once again. The good thing is, he's already been there, fighting from walk-on to the Packers practice squad last season. This year, he's up to 260 lbs. that should help him endure the rigors of the NFL a bit more, not to mention the Packers tight end situation isn't exactly the picture of clarity. Andrew Quarless is coming off injury, their best blocking tight end (Tom Crabtree) is gone, and Jermichael Finley may just decide he wants to quit football and try out for broadway one of these days. With Bostick winning scout player of the week honors several times last year, this training camp could be his opportunity to take another step forward--this time, to the 53-man roster.
More from Acme Packing Company:
- Packers' 2013 Offseason Roster Predictions: Full 53-Man Roster
- Cheese Curds: Green Bay Packers News and Links for July 24, 2013
- APC Lunch Break: What is the craziest thing you've done following a Packer loss?