Three Unheralded Players Worth Watching
by Mike Conklin
August 5, 2012
The Packers are not a team lacking in talent. Just ask Aaron Rodgers.
“This is going to be I think the most difficult cuts Ted and his staff and Mike have to do, because we’re deep,” Rodgers said last week. “It’s tough, it’s frustrating, because you get to know guys...but I’m excited about this team this year. We’ve got a lot of talent.”
There aren't many roster spots up for grabs. And unlike other years, it doesn't look like there will be a lot of room for undrafted free agents either. Dezman Moses looks like he he'll be on the final roster, but no other undrafted players really appear to be standing out at this point. Not to the point of pushing for a roster spot, at least.
Even so, the Packers have some young players that will look to take advantage of their opportunity and put some good things on film, whether it be to vie for a practice squad spot for the Packers, or for possible future employment by another team. And this Thursday's preseason game against the Chargers will be their first real chance to do that.
Keep an eye on the following three unheralded players as we begin the exhibition season. Each of them has demonstrated some unique characteristics and there is a chance they may show something late in these games. They may not have a future with the Packers, but then again, stranger things have happened...
Micah Pellerin may have found himself at the bottom of the depth chart when it was released this weekend, but at 6'0" and 195 pounds he has some of the measurables and coverage skills the Packers look for in their safeties. As a cornerback at Hampton University, Pellerin led the entire FCS (formerly Division 1-AA) in passes defensed as a senior, and for his career finished fifth all time in division history.
According to Packer Report, the Packers had heavy interest in Pellerin throughout the pre-draft process, but after drafting defensive backs Casey Hayward and Jerron McMillian within the first four rounds they spent their final picks elsewhere. The Packers reportedly pursued Pellerin after the draft, but he chose to sign with the Colts. About a month later, the Colts cut him in order to sign a cornerback with veteran experience, and the Packers picked up Pellerin on waivers. The cut came as a surprise.
“I didn’t give up a pass in OTAs; that’s on the film," Pellerin said. "I didn’t give up a pass. I was dominant on special teams. I think it was a situation where — you can only speculate — they probably wanted to upgrade the position from a veteran standpoint. That’s their decision. That’s their mistake.”
With Charlie Peprah cut before camp started, Pellerin has seen quite a few reps during practice. And with Charles Woodson sitting out the Family Night scrimmage as he always does, Pellerin saw a fair amount of action and appeared to be around the ball on several occasions.
Playing behind other young safeties like M.D. Jennings, Jerron McMillian, Anthony Levine, and Sean Richardson, the odds are very long that Pellerin will make much of a splash. But if the Packers were so interested in Pellerin throughout the pre-draft process, he may be a player to watch during the upcoming preseason games.
Standing only 5'9", Du'ane Bennett doesn't fit the typical profile that the Packers usually like in their running backs, but weighing in at a thickly built 213 pounds, he isn't a scatback either. Bennett wasn't invited to the combine, but his 28 reps on the bench press at his Pro Day would have tied for best among all running backs if he had been in Indianapolis. He has the strength to run in between the tackles.
Bennett finished 13th all time in rushing at the University of Minnesota, and added another 82 receptions during his career. There are questions about whether or not he may have been even more productive had he played behind a better offensive line, as Minnesota struggled during his tenure. His pre-draft profile from Sports Illustrated described him like this:
"Hard-running ballcarrier with average size/speed numbers for the next level. Finds the running lanes, quickly gets through the hole and does not shy away from contact. Runs hard, keeping his feet moving and trying to pick up as much yardage as possible. Effectively uses his blocks, runs with good lean and displays good all-around quickness."
With his thick build, low center of gravity, and gutsy play, Bennett has a chance to be the kind of player that draws attention to himself late in preseason games.
Three years ago, Curenski Gilleylen seemed like a player on the rise. Playing at one of the premier programs in college football, the speedy Nebraska wide receiver looked like he may emerge as a star. The redshirt sophomore caught 17 passes for 302 yards in 2009, resulting in a 17.8 yard average. But then, nobody ever heard from him again.
Nebraska's irascible head coach Bo Pelini is well known for having a dog house, and Gilleylen seemed to find himself taking up residence there. For his part, Gilleylen didn't know what happened.
“I didn’t think I was a bad football player but it seemed like that sometimes,” Gilleylen said. “It wasn’t anything that I did. I tried my best every day. It was definitely a struggle to wake up every day and not practice, and to feel like I can contribute and not to be put in a position to (contribute) was rough.”
To his credit, Gilleylen didn't give up, even when his coaches had him change positions. He showed up for practice, kept a positive attitude, and tried to remember that being part of a team was more important than the fact that he was a highly recruited prep star that chose Nebraska over other top teams like Oklahoma State and Tennessee.
"Bar none, I've never seen a more unselfish player than Curenski Gilleylen," said Nebraska running backs coach Ron Brown. Gilleylen had fallen down the depth chart so far that he wasn't even invited to travel with the team to some of their away games. Even so, he kept showing up for team meetings even when he didn't have to.
"Our chapel service was on unselfishness and serving, and washing each other's feet," Brown said. "I asked the guys, ‘OK, guys, in our room, ‘Who's been that guy?' And they'd already seen Curenski get up early and come to the practice session and not get on the plane. I looked up and I saw (starters Rex Burkhead and Tyler Legate), and I saw tears streaming down their faces. And I couldn't hold it in. Because we realized that's the example we're talking about."
Gilleylen's work ethic was highly respected by his teammates at Nebraska, and it appears that he has continued that trend in the early going with the Packers. He has also shown some signs that he still has playmaking ability after languishing on the Cornhuskers bench the past two seasons. Since he plays in the deepest position group on the Packers roster, Gilleylen doesn't get a ton of reps during practice, but he has still made a couple plays that caused fans and media members alike to scramble to figure out which wide receiver wears jersey number 7.
Gilleylen won't see action until long after the starters are done for the day, and is more likely to be catching passes from B.J. Coleman than Graham Harrell. Whatever the case may be, he will be finally be given a chance on the field after toiling in obscurity in Nebraska the past two years, and will be a fun player to watch during the exhibition season starting Thursday night.
It is often the story behind the story that is most compelling, and by the time the Packers get to the fourth quarter of preseason games storylines often become scarce. Each of these players seems to have some traits that may allow them to stand out on the field, and the Packers thought highly enough of them to give them a shot. It will be up to each of them to make plays during these games, but they are three players worth watching when the Packers take the field later this week.
Photo Credit: US Presswire