The Green Bay Packers are crazy about Rashan Gary. They must be — if they were not, he would not have become the team’s first selection in the 2019 NFL Draft.
Gary is clearly crazy about being a Packer as well. After arriving to Green Bay on Thursday for rookie orientation camp and signing his contract, Gary had a moment where it hit him all at once that he’s actually in the NFL and a member of one of the most historic organizations in football. “I just stared at (my jersey) for like five minutes and then realized I had to catch the bus,” Gary told reporters after practice on Friday. “Wearing that gold and green, there’s something (special) about it.”
Of course, Gary’s jersey will bear the number 52, which belonged to fellow pass-rusher Clay Matthews for the past nine seasons. That fact is not lost on Gary, who said that he specifically requested that number. “Five minus two equals three (and) I wore three in college,” Gary joked, but the history of the number clearly appeals to him as well. “Clay Matthews (is) a guy, I used to watch his game a lot. I’m a bigger type guy, but I love his passion for the game, man. As soon as I saw it was open, I had to take it.”
Gary did wear a harness on his right shoulder during practice, however, something that may be the case for him throughout his rookie season. Gary tore the labrum in that shoulder, and while the team has avoided any word on whether the injury will require surgery — either before or after the season — it is clearly something that the team is monitoring closely. Head coach Matt LaFleur confirmed that it was the Packers’ medical staff that instructed Gary to wear the harness on Friday, however, so that will likely be the case throughout offseason workouts.
There will be a bit of a bond between the Packers’ first two draft picks in 2019, however. While Gary is pressuring quarterbacks, safety Darnell Savage will be roaming in the secondary trying to make plays on the football and on receivers. “He’s a good dude,” Gary said of his new teammate. “I told him don’t worry, you cover, I’m gonna make sure you get a couple interceptions.”
While the players were working out on the field, LaFleur was of course leading and observing drills in practice. he even got in the mix with the quarterbacks, throwing some passes to running backs. “I threw some good balls out there,” he joked in a press conference after practice. But despite some fun for him personally in that aspect, LaFleur was focused on establishing a baseline for his new players. “We want to give them a good foundation of what we’re all about,” he said. “You want to be able to integrate these guys into phase two and the drill work right away. You don’t want to slow things down for your veterans.”
One of the early picks whose weekend got off to a slow start on the field, however, is third-round pick Jace Sternberger. The tight end from Texas A&M was in attendance at practice on Friday but was not participating. After much social media concern in the immediate aftermath of that news, LaFleur revealed it to be a non-issue: Sternberger was out of practice due to an illness but the team expects him to be on the field for the first time on Saturday.
For Sternberger, Friday was still an exciting day though. “It’s like the first day of school,” he told the media. “First impressions are a big thing for me ... obviously I didn’t get to do anything today (on the field) with being sick, but it’s one of those things where I’m doing things off the field preparation-wise where I can still make a good impression.”
The Packers will return to the field on Saturday for a closed practice to bring rookie minicamp to a close.