While everyone is busy speculating about which players and positions the Green Bay Packers ought to be focusing on in the draft or how much of a splash will Ted Thompson make in free agency (stay tuned on that one), no one is talking, writing or even tweeting about players that can reinforce the team that are already on the payroll.
Yes, I’m talking about the practice squad. It’s a place where young athletes are forced to bide their time in the shadows in hopes of one day emerging as mainstays on the active roster.
For those that may be familiar with the process, young players that are typically in their first or second years at the pro level are often placed among a group of raw athletes that are allowed to practice with their peers during the week, but cannot take the field on game day.
While some of these individuals may end up bouncing from team to team and never realize their dreams, several highly successful veterans profited from their humble beginnings on the practice squad, including Danny Amendola, James Harrison and Brandon Marshall of the Denver Broncos.
The Packers are well known for being among the top organizations when it comes to developing their practice-squad talent into active weekly contributors which gives them a leg up on inking a number of highly-coveted undrafted free agents, also known as UDFAs.
One of these undrafted prospects that ultimately signed on with Green Bay due to their reputation in developing undrafted rookie personnel is defensive tackle Brian Price, who at about 6-foot-2 1/2” and 325 pounds has the size and ability to serve as an early-down two-gapper in Dom Capers’ hybrid 3-4 scheme.
The University of Texas San Antonio (UTSA) product acquitted himself well in the preseason by using his powerful hands to push blockers back in an effort to reroute opposing running backs.
Though Price didn’t exactly light the world on fire with his performance, he showed enough flashes to make the coaching staff believe in his potential as an interior lineman that should be able to hold his own thanks to his natural leverage and strength at the point of attack.
In fact, one could argue that the trench grinder thoroughly outperformed fellow rookie lineman Dean Lowry, who unlike Price was a Day-3 draft pick.
One factor that prevented the stout defender from being drafted was a combination of back and shoulder issues he battled as a collegian.
But as a testament to the young man’s toughness, Price actually played two years with a torn labrum.
If there were any doubts about the way the Packers feel about the second-year man’s future, the front office bumped his weekly practice-squad salary from $6,900.00 a week to $26,465.00—the maximum amount that can be allotted to taxi-squad member—in response to the Colts attempt to poach Price from them.
Going forward, Price will be afforded every opportunity to make the 53-man roster considering the fact that Mike Pennel was recently cut loose along with Letroy Guion’s uncertain status following his uninspiring season as he creeps closer to his 30th birthday after 10 seasons in the league.
One of the aspects of his game that the former UTSA Roadrunner will need to show improvement in is his disengagement skills to shed his man and get to the ball carrier once he’s already gained penetration.
Price accomplished that on a weekly basis to opponents from Conference USA, as well as to his Big-12 adversaries, but doing it in the NFL is a whole different sack of marbles.
Another practice-squad standout that has all the physical tools to turn some heads this summer and earn a spot on the depth chart is tight end Beau Sandland.
One look at the 24-year-old and it would be hard not to be awed by his measurables, which include his size and length at 6’4 ½”, 255 pounds with 34 ¼”arms and 10 1/8” hands, which were the fourth largest at the position at last year’s combine.
Sandland’s week in Indy further revealed his ability to run, as evidenced by his 4.74-time in the 40, a captivating 35-inch vertical leap and a respectable 23 reps in the bench-press competition.
As a result of a highly-successful senior year at Montana State and his aforementioned post-season exploits, the Panthers made the fair-haired Californian their seventh-round pick.
Sandland’s progress was nothing short of remarkable from mini-camp practices into training camp, as he showcased his pass-catching prowess by continually plucking the ball in his hands rather than trapping it in his body.
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What’s more, the promising rookie’s attention-grabbing open-field running and leaping skills to come down with the ball in between defenders had some Panthers’ beat writers proclaiming Sandland as a veritable “lock” to make the final 53-man roster in early August.
But once Carolina began playing its slate of preseason games, however, the young pass-catching weapon began to disappear and would go on to go catchless throughout exhibition play.
Sandland was subsequently cut and later added to the practice squad only to once again find himself unemployed when GM David Gettleman signed off on his Nov. 9 release.
And in yet another case of one man’s trash being the other’s treasure, Thompson acted quickly in welcoming in the fledgling project on his 10-man practice squad only 24 hours later.
In a show of how highly the franchise thought of Sandland, he was later rewarded with a raise from $6,900.00 to $10,000.00 in his weekly stipend.
Although the former four-star recruit has the makings of a productive pass-catching tight end, the task of finding those types of prospects isn’t as onerous as it once was with the proliferation of spread offenses at the college level.
So what is it that compelled the Packers to not only sign Sandland, but then turn around and bump up his weekly earnings?
While this writer isn’t privy to the intricate details of the team’s in-season practice sessions, it is probably a safe bet to assume that Thompson and company are enamored with Sandland’s potential as a traditional in-line blocker—a position he became well acquainted with in Bozeman, MT.
When one factors in all of his attributes, Sandland appears to be a very intriguing chip to say the least and can partially explain the team’s decision to part ways with Justin Perillo, who now finds himself in a Chicago Bears’ uniform.
It isn’t everyday that one stumbles upon a four-down tight end that can lock horns with pass rushers on the line of scrimmage along with having the speed, hands and hips to be a legitimate two-way threat.
Sandland’s biggest challenge once the pads come back on will be to demonstrate increased polish in his route running, particularly when a defender makes contact with him as he gets into his pattern.
If and when this diamond-in-the-rough makes strides in the part of his overall skill set, there’s no telling what the future holds.
So watch out, Richard Rodgers—the Packers could have big plans for the “Sandman” if everything goes according to plan.