For at least the past three or four seasons, we have seen a player come seemingly out of nowhere and forge their way onto the Green Bay Packers roster. In 2010, the team’s Super Bowl championship season, it was cornerback Sam Shields. In 2011 it was linebacker Vic So’oto. Last season, it was linebacker Dezman Moses. This year, it’s the offensive side of the ball’s turn as wide receiver Tyrone Walker seems to be “that guy” in this year’s training camp.
Just before camp broke last month, our very own Thomas Hobbes penned a profile on Walker and compared him to former Packers receiver Greg Jennings. The comparison was that Walker is not the fastest or biggest guy on the field, but he runs fluid routes, gets open, and he can hang onto the ball.
Coming from a small school in that of Illinois State, Walker’s road to the NFL was not only hampered by a lack of spotlight, but Thomas notes that some of his teammates (LB Nate Palmer, QB Matt Brown) were bigger priorities for the Packers. Brown has already been cut and Palmer is buried behind a bevy of guys competing at linebacker. Meanwhile, Walker has established himself as a player that the coaching staff needs to keep a close eye on.
It’s always a good sign when your All-Pro quarterback is noticing you and asking you if you were open on a previous play during live game action. Walker had five catches for 41 yards in the preseason opener against the Arizona Cardinals. Just a few days ago, JSOnline’s Tom Silverstein wrote about Walker and how many of the current Packers’ starters are recognizing his talents.
With receivers Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb both trying to heal from previous injuries, Walker is making the most of the increased opportunity to practice and see the field. He is constantly mentioned in practice updates and seems to take steps forward each day in pushing for a roster spot. Both Nelson and Cobb are expected to be ready for the start of the regular season, but the team is also an injury away from becoming thin at a very crucial position. Walker’s value could skyrocket in a hurry depending on the team’s health at receiver.
Chad Toporski wrote about another receiver who is pushing for a roster spot in that of Jeremy Ross. Entering training camp, Ross was said to be a top contender for the fifth wide receiver slot as well as the primary kick returner. While Ross came on last season and showed a lot of potential in the kick return game, he has not been as flashy as a receiver. He has had several drops in training camp and we all remember his few fumbles when fielding kicks last year. Chad says, and rightfully so, that if Ross can’t crack the roster as both a returner and a receiver, the Packers likely can’t keep him. This would further open the door for Walker.
Packers head coach Mike McCarthy tends to stick with his guys and because of Ross’ potential in the return game, I think the team will give him every opportunity to keep a roster spot. Still, he has to earn it and if he does not improve his ball security, Ross could be headed out of Green Bay shortly. If Ross can stick, Green Bay would need to either add Walker to the active roster, sign him to the practice squad, or cut him after training camp. While the team has had some success in stashing young talent on the practice squad in the past, Walker has already garnered enough attention that he would probably get scooped up by another team relatively quickly.
Adding Walker could mean keeping six receivers like the Packers did last season. Part of the reason the team did that was because they were not quite ready to let Donald Driver go. There was also likely some pressure to keep him another season. Driver is now retired, any of that pressure is gone, and the team can decide what to do with their last few receiver spots. Incumbent Jarret Boykin is nearly a lock for the fourth spot with Ross and Walker battling for the fifth and potentially, sixth. With a hefty competition at the running back and defensive line positions, Green Bay may not have the luxury of keeping six receivers.
During this past week’s No Huddle Radio podcast, we discussed who needs to step up and have a big week. While Walker didn’t emerge in that conversation, he certainly is a player who needs to continue to play at a high level and impress. Many of us will be watching how cornerback Davon House rebounds from last week’s dismal performance or whether Mason Crosby can manage to keep a ball in the stadium on his first field goal attempt, but keep an eye on Walker.
In the NBA, the sixth man is the guy who comes off the bench and provides rest for the starters while hopefully maintaining the team’s level of play. It’s an important enough role that they have a “Sixth Man of the Year” award, and I note that there are only five players on the court at a time in basketball whereas there are 11 in football. Still, in a pass-heavy offense, having a sixth guy is always something to consider. Walker may end up the fifth man and win the job straight up, but even if the Packers keep Ross, Walker has already made a very strong case to be involved in the team’s plans as they start the 2013 season.——————
Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on AllGreenBayPackers.comFollow Jason Perone: