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Amid Rodgers drama, Packers boost depth at positions of need

Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur speaks during a press conference after an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions on Monday, Oct. 14, 2019, in Green Bay, Wis. (Adam Niemi/The Daily Mining Gazette)

The Green Bay Packers believe they found ideal candidates to fill their biggest positional needs and upgraded a star-studded roster as they attempt to make a Super Bowl run.

But that won’t be a realistic short-term goal if star quarterback and reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers is playing elsewhere.

“I can’t even take my brain to that spot right now,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said Saturday. “I just want to do everything in my power to ensure that doesn’t happen.”

Rodgers’ reported desire to leave the Packers overshadowed any draft moves the team made over the past three days, even as team officials maintained confidence they’d have him back this fall.

In a column posted Saturday on the team’s website, Packers CEO Mark Murphy called the Rodgers situation “an issue that we have been working on for several months.” Murphy acknowledged that he, LaFleur and general manager Brian Gutekunst all have visited Rodgers during the offseason.

“I think obviously some things can become complicated and we’re working through it the best we can,” Gutekunst said. “We’ve been working through it for a while. Again, we’re very optimistic that we can get through this for what’s best for the Green Bay Packers, which is Aaron suiting up for us this fall.”

While Rodgers was attending the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, the Packers were finishing up their draft by taking Mississippi offensive lineman Royce Newman in the fourth round (142nd overall), Florida defensive tackle T.J. Slaton (173rd) and Appalachian State cornerback Shemar Jean-Charles (178th) in the fifth, Wisconsin offensive lineman Cole Van Lanen (214th) and Boston College linebacker Isaiah McDuffie (220th) in the sixth and Mississippi State running back Kylin Hill (256th) in the seventh.

That followed the selections of Georgia cornerback Eric Stokes in the first round, Ohio State center Josh Myers in the second round and Clemson receiver Amari Rodgers in the third round.

Staying home

Van Lanen gets to live out a childhood dream after growing up about 10 to 15 minutes from Lambeau Field. The graduate of Green Bay’s Bay Port High School didn’t initially realize what was happening when the Packers called to welcome him to the organization.

“This one came up as ‘Spam Likely’ on my phone,” Van Lanen said. “I saw it was a Green Bay number, and I answered it. I just kind of wasn’t even expecting it to be Gutekunst and Matt LaFleur. I just couldn’t believe it. They said, ‘How would you like to be a Packer?’ And I was just absolutely stoked.”

Solving depth concerns

Green Bay’s draft emphasis on the offensive line and cornerback came as no surprise.

The offensive line lost much of its depth in the offseason when All-Pro center Corey Linsley left for the Los Angeles Chargers, tackle Rick Wagner was released and guard Lane Taylor signed with the Houston Texans.

Green Bay has a Pro Bowl cornerback Jaire Alexander on its roster, but its depth issues at that position were evident during its NFC championship game loss to Tampa Bay.

Versatile linemen

The Packers have succeeded with an offensive line featuring guys who can play multiple positions. Last season, Elgton Jenkins became the first Packer since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 to start at least one game at center, guard and tackle. Billy Turner made multiple starts at left tackle, right guard and right tackle.

Green Bay’s new linemen could continue the trend.

Myers was drafted as a center, but is capable of playing guard as well. Newman played left guard at Ole Miss in 2019, but moved over to right tackle last season. Van Lanen played left tackle at Wisconsin, but could move to guard in the NFL.

Targeting (Amari) Rodgers

Gutekunst said the Packers were torn between Myers and Amari Rodgers while making their second-round pick. They ended up landing both. Green Bay gave up a fourth-round pick to move up seven spots in the third round to take Rodgers.

“We were trying pretty significantly to get up to go get Amari,” Gutekunst said. “It took us a little while longer than we wanted to. We paid a little bit of a price, but I thought it was important because of the value of the player I wanted.”

Blue-collar cornerback

Jean-Charles, the only Packers draft pick who didn’t come from a Power Five school, had 17 passes defended last season to lead all Football Bowl Subdivision players.

Jean-Charles says he also played on all of Appalachian State’s special teams units.

“I guarantee the Packers are going to get everything out of me,” Jean-Charles said. “I’m a blue-collar guy. There’s nothing pretty about my game. But you know, I play hard and I play with a lot of heart.”

Hill and McDuffie also were productive college performers.

McDuffie ranked fifth among all FBS players in total tackles (107) last season. Hill rushed for 1,350 yards in 2019, but opted out after playing only three games in 2020.

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