D-III standout benefits from Packers' new practice format

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Even if the NFL roster limit for training camp stays at 80 players, the Green Bay Packers might have room for former Division III college standout Justin Beaver.

Packers coach Mike McCarthy said at the end of the team's three-day rookie orientation camp that Beaver, a running back from Wisconsin-Whitewater, showed enough on a tryout basis to merit consideration for a roster spot.

"I would love for him to have an opportunity because he's been impressive," McCarthy said.

The 5-foot-7 Beaver had a chance to stand out thanks to a change in format for the Packers this spring.

Having the rookies on the practice field before the veteran players join them later this month was a productive exercise as Green Bay started its busy offseason schedule.

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With general manager Ted Thompson preferring to view the NFL draft as a long-term investment rather than as a way to immediately fill holes in the roster, the Green Bay Packers' early-round picks have often spent more time on the bench than on the field early in their careers.

This year, it's possible that a deep receiving corps will keep top pick Jordy Nelson low on the depth chart early on, and if new starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers is effective and healthy, second-round pick Brian Brohm won't see action. More ...

"Comparing it to last year, (when he held his first rookie minicamp), it was significantly better, just as far as the overall group," McCarthy said. "We had some more players this year than we had last year. You'd just see the progression of practices, how they improved from Friday to Sunday.

"Like I told the players when we broke (camp Sunday), I'm just very impressed with the quality of work that we were able to get done this weekend."

The practices were confined to the Packers' nine draft picks this year, 11 undrafted rookies they signed as free agents, a few other young players on the roster and 19 tryout players.

Since the premise of the post-draft camp was to get the players acclimated to procedural matters with the team on and off the field, McCarthy and his staff weren't consumed with the evaluation of players' performance.

That test will come in the Packers' organized team activities, which begin May 19 and are spread out over four weeks.

Per a league rule, the rookies have a two-week hiatus before they report back to Green Bay, along with the veterans, on May 18 for the OTAs.

"I think things will settle some more once we're around the vets, working out with them," said receiver Jordy Nelson, a second-round draft pick this year. "Right now, it's just good seeing the building and trying to get familiarized with everyone and everything that goes on on a day-to-day basis here."

In a change from McCarthy's previous two years as head coach, the voluntary OTAs will come before the Packers have their mandatory minicamp, June 17-19.

"I just felt it would be better to do that at the end and give the chance to the rookies and the younger players to build up to that camp, instead of having the camp first and then having the OTAs," McCarthy said.

Having the minicamp later in the spring will segue to the start of training camp July 28.

The alterations in the offseason schedule also were made to keep any of the Packers' rookies from missing the mandatory minicamp because of conflicts with the academic schedule at their school or league-sponsored events for the top draft picks.

Running back Brandon Jackson missed the mandatory minicamp last year to attend a required promotional event in California.

"We figured that out this year," McCarthy said.

McCarthy was to meet with members of the Packers' personnel staff Sunday afternoon to decide on which tryout players they would like to keep. McCarthy indicated that four of those players would likely be signed to a contract.

Despite his short stature and small-school background, Beaver had the support of the coach. Beaver last year won the Gagliardi Trophy, the Division III equivalent of the Heisman Trophy, and helped Whitewater win the D-III national title.

"He's done a very nice job," McCarthy said. "He plays with a lot of energy, very quick, explosive."

Notes: McCarthy wasn't sure the Packers would have more than three QBs in training camp. Aaron Rodgers, tabbed Brett Favre's successor, is top on the depth chart, followed by a pair of rookie draft picks with Brian Brohm and Matt Flynn. McCarthy said it may hinge on whether the rosters will expand to 86 players, favored by the coaches, or stay at the current league's limit of 80.

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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