Packers plan to ease draft picks into playing time

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- 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.

As one of 19 players participating in the camp on a tryout basis, Justin Beaver knows he's a long shot, but he has made an impression on coach Mike McCarthy.

"He's quick as a hiccup, as advertised. I thought he did a nice job," McCarthy said. "He plays with both excellent pace and tempo. He's got an excellent spirit, just the little that I've seen.

Beaver and the other tryout players will learn their fate Sunday after the personnel department and coaching staff huddle and decide whom to sign to the 80-man roster following the final practice of the camp. More ...

Last year, for example, first-round pick Justin Harrell was inactive for nine of the first 11 games of the season; second-round halfback Brandon Jackson started the first three games but was inactive for the next four and only a bit player thereafter; and even though third-round wideout James Jones earned the No. 3 receiver job, third-round safety Aaron Rouse was inactive for the first three games and played only on special teams the next five.

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.

But both third-round tight end Jermichael Finley and second-round cornerback Patrick Lee, given the Packers' needs at their respective positions, clearly have an opportunity for immediate playing time.

So while this weekend's post-draft rookie orientation camp has 36 rookies -- nine draft picks, 11 undrafted free-agent signees and 16 of the 19 tryout invitees -- getting their first taste of an NFL practice, Finley and Lee could end up seeing the most action from scrimmage.

Finley joins a tight end corps that previously consisted of just two: starter Donald Lee and Tory Humphrey, who's yet to catch a pass in the eight regular-season games he's played in three years. Humphrey missed all of 2007 with a broken ankle.

Patrick Lee, the third of the Packers' three second-round picks, joins a cornerback group that has Pro Bowl veterans Charles Woodson and Al Harris entrenched as the starters. Beyond that pair is a free-for-all for the No. 3 cornerback job -- a position that's used on about 50 percent of the defensive snaps because of how often the nickel defense is employed.

Finley admitted he kept an eye on the tight ends on the Packers' roster after the team expressed an interest in him at the combine. Although the Packers added two undrafted tight ends, Finley could be the team's No. 2 tight end in September.

While the Packers haven't told Finley about his chances of playing right away, they didn't have to.

"They're not really telling me anything. They're just telling me to go out and work hard," said Finley, who came out of Texas following a redshirt sophomore season in which he caught 45 passes for 575 yards and two touchdowns. "(But) looking at the tight end position, I've got a big chance of coming in and playing."

Lee, meanwhile, knows about Woodson and Harris, but when asked about his competition for the third corner spot -- holdovers Tramon Williams, Jarrett Bush and Will Blackmon all held the job at different times last season -- Lee said he's yet to call up Packers.com and peek at the depth chart.

"I never looked at that. I still haven't looked at that," said Lee, who started five games as a sophomore in 2005, then played only in sub defenses before regaining his job and starting all 13 of Auburn's games as a senior last year. "I'd love to contribute in any way -- special teams, anything and everything. I'm going to be ready. I want to be actually on the field and make plays."

Even though there would appear to be more urgency to getting Finley and Lee ready to play compared to Nelson, Brohm or offensive linemen Josh Sitton and Breno Giacomini, coach Mike McCarthy said Finley and Lee's learning curves won't be accelerated.

"I think the opportunities for any young player usually come through special teams (first)," McCarthy said. "They probably won't be treated any differently. But the progression of how they're taught and the opportunities that will come to them first, we just have to get them ready for that."

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press.

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