Packers’ Rookie Tori Gurley has special talent
By Tyler Dunne, Journal-Sentinel
~Green Bay – The evolution of Tori Gurley, Punt Blocker Extraordinaire, traces back to a student/faculty basketball game.
Gurley was in the sixth grade. He broke free on a fast break and flushed his first-ever dunk. One year later, in a real game, Gurley palmed a missed shot in midair and dunked.
“I was always just so long,” said the Green Bay Packers wide receiver, pausing to outstretch his arms in the locker room.
This sheer length has become Gurley’s best weapon. The undrafted rookie faced long odds from Day 1 here. His position is overcrowded. One roster spot – maybe – is up for grabs at wide receiver.
By his count, Gurley has blocked five punts in practice. And two days after his clutch catch set up Mason Crosby’s game-winning field goal in Indianapolis, the 6-foot-4 wideout from South Carolina put on a show on offense at practice Sunday.
With judgment day rapidly approaching, this dark-horse is picking up momentum at the best possible time.
“It’s happening,” Gurley said. “It’s something I’ve worked very hard for. I’m going to continue to work because that’s the only thing I can control.”
All camp, Gurley has been a problem for the Packers’ punt team. Block No. 5 came Sunday. Using his long arms, Gurley has closed in fast on punter Tim Masthay. He never played defensive end, but Gurley has enjoyed imitating two of his favorite players growing up, Jevon Kearse and Julius Peppers.
Gurley insists this was all part of his plan. All along, he wanted to leave college a year early for the pros. So, thinking ahead, the wide receiver asked to play on special teams as a junior. In addition to compiling 44 catches for 465 yards and four touchdowns, Gurley lined up as the left tackle on kickoff returns, the gunner on the punt team and he rushed off the edge on punt returns.
Against the Colts, Gurley was a hiccup away from his first preseason blocked punt. With 5 minutes to go, he blew through safety Mike Newton and nearly lunged for the block. On the fly, he contemplated the game situation. Down, 14-13. Time ticking. Gurley lived for another day. At the last moment, he pulled up.
Gurley ended up getting the last word anyway. After Green Bay recovered its onside kick after tying the game at 21, Gurley caught a 12-yard pass from No. 3 quarterback Graham Harrell and toted a Colts defender on his back to get out of bounds. One play later, Crosby was in range for his game-winning 50-yard field goal.
“I thought that was the biggest play of the game for us – the throw, the catch and the ability to get out of bounds,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “He’s making plays on a regular basis. He’s doing a nice job.”
Veteran Donald Driver understands this back-roads entrance to the NFL. He needed to excel on special teams to claw into the league himself. In Gurley, and all of Green Bay’s young receivers, he sees part of his old self.
“When he came in, he was nervous and didn’t know what to expect,” Driver said. “Now, he’s getting into his own. His confidence level is great. He’s going out there and making plays.”
Gurley will not be a burner, by any means, at this level. Competitors Chastin West and Diondre Borel are much quicker. To compensate, Gurley relies on focus and body control. With the Gamecocks, he never dropped a pass. And at 83½ inches, Gurley had the longest arm-span among wide receivers at the NFL scouting combine. Alabama’s Julio Jones was next at 81¾. No other receiver eclipsed 80.
Several times throughout camp, this pterodactyl build has helped Gurley in one-on-one situations. On Sunday, he beat fourth-round cornerback Davon House for a pair of deep balls. On one, Gurley adjusted to an underthrown pass from Aaron Rodgers in traffic. A flag was thrown, though Gurley says he was clean. Soon after, he caught another deep pass with Pat Lee in coverage.
“It’s not all about speed,” Gurley said. “Jerry Rice defined that a long time ago as well as Larry Fitzgerald. It’s like he has eyes on the back of his head and he turns into a ballerina/basketball player. It’s poetry in motion. That’s something I try to mold myself as. When the ball’s in the air, it’s mine.”
Full story from Tyler here