amari rodgers photo 5-14

Wide receiver Amari Rodgers had never been to Wisconsin until arriving at this week's rookie minicamp.

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GREEN BAY — Having gone to high school in Tennessee and college at Clemson, Amari Rodgers had never been to Wisconsin, much less the smallest market in major American professional sports.

So, when the Green Bay Packers' third-round draft pick left the hotel where he and the rest of the team’s rookies are staying during the two-day rookie minicamp, Lambeau Field snuck up on him a bit.

“It's like, I'm at the hotel and there's not much around me. But then I take a left and a right and it's a big, huge stadium right there,” Rodgers marveled during a Zoom call with reporters on Friday afternoon following the first of two practices during the camp. “It's pretty cool just to know that it's kind of a smaller town, but then you get in the center of it and it's one of the most prestigious stadiums in NFL history. It's just a blessing to be a part of this.”

Rodgers was talking about being on the roster of one of the NFL’s best-known and oldest franchises, but he also could have considered Friday’s one-hour workout a blessing compared to last year’s rookie class, which didn’t have such opportunities thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic forcing all of the NFL’s offseason activities into the virtual realm.

“It feels so good to be out there with these guys,” Packers third-year coach Matt LaFleur said. “I’ll tell you, the one thing that was extremely noticeable was just the energy level and the effort of these guys was outstanding.

“Because all of our meetings up to this point have been virtual, I’m meeting these guys for the first time face-to-face. All of our coaches are.”

LaFleur had 28 players at his disposal on Friday — Rodgers and the rest of the team’s nine-player draft class, seven undrafted rookie free agents, three tryout players and nine players previously on the roster. And while the coaches wanted to get a good look at all of those players, they were particularly intrigued by Rodgers, a versatile wide receiver who seems like the ideal multi-dimensional tool for LaFleur’s offense; cornerback Eric Stokes, the team’s first-round pick from Georgia; offensive lineman Josh Myers, a second-round pick from Ohio State who could be the team’s starting center in the fall; and offensive lineman Cole Van Lanen, the former University of Wisconsin standout who grew up 15 minutes from Lambeau Field.

“It’s hard to put into words,” Myers said. “When I was a little kid, this is all I ever wanted to do, just like a ton of other little kids. For me to be able to live that dream out like I know literally millions of others want to, just almost a humbling experience. I couldn’t be more excited about it.”

Friday also was a big day for Stokes, whose selection on April 29 was overshadowed by news that Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, coming off his third NFL MVP season, was unhappy with the organization and was seeking a trade. The coverage of a shoo-in first-ballot Pro Football Hall of Famer at odds with the organization stole most of the headlines that night and throughout draft weekend.

“To put a Packers jersey on, I come from Georgia, and now I’m in Green Bay, so I’m just switching the ‘G,’” Stokes pointed out. “Just getting a little different color. Instead of red and black, I’m going with the green and yellow. It’s just a whole different ‘G.’

“It’s still amazing, the history behind here that I keep learning about every day.”

Most of the rookies arrived in town Wednesday evening, reported to Lambeau Field for physicals with the team’s medical staff and received their limited playbooks on Thursday and then hit the field Friday. But not Van Lanen, of course, who was already in town at his parents’ house in nearby Suamico after the Packers took him with the first of two sixth-round picks.

“I just want to be someone that this town can look up to, you know? A hometown kid that’s kind of made it,” Van Lanen said. “I’m glad I can be that guy and represent the community well.”

Extra points

Seven of the Packers’ nine draft picks and all seven of their undrafted rookie free agents have signed their contracts. Stokes and Rodgers were the only two rookies still unsigned as of Friday evening. … Rodgers is taking advantage of the NFL relaxing its uniform number guidelines and will wear a single-digit jersey, No. 8, because his college No. 3 is retired for Pro Football Hall of Famer Tony Canadeo. “I definitely wanted to hop on it. It’s the first year (of the rule change),” Rodgers said. “No. 3 was retired (but) ‘8’ is just a ‘3’ but you close it in. Everything coming full circle, all the work I put in came full circle. That’s what that ‘8’ symbolizes to me.” … Alvin Jones, the twin brother of Pro Bowl running back Aaron Jones, is taking part in the camp on a tryout basis. … Running back Patrick Taylor also was allowed to take part after spending last season on the non-football injury list.


Photos: Packers’ 2020 season in pictures

Photos: Packers' 2020 season in pictures

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This article originally ran on madison.com.