Gurley, Smithson, Borel hope to hang on for Packers
By Tyler Dunne, Journal-Sentinel
~Green Bay – All week before the Green Bay Packers’ playoff game against the New York Giants in January, Diondre Borel was Victor Cruz. Borel worked in the slot, mimicking the Giants receiver best he could.
Their games are similar, the Packers receiver says. Like Borel, Cruz was an undrafted, non-factor as a rookie.
The Packers certainly would take that. While it’s a stretch to predict any of Green Bay’s reserve wideouts will salsa dance their way to stardom, they do create an interesting numbers game in Green Bay this off-season. Veteran Donald Driver, one of five wide receivers on the roster last season, wants to keep playing. Further, his agent, Jordan Woy, says he has talked to the team about Driver’s contract.
But the Packers also must consider the future of their younger receivers. There’s only one ball to go around, only so many roster spots.
Green Bay may want to get second-year pro Randall Cobb on the field more. And there’s also Borel and Tori Gurley, two practice squad players the team gave pay raises to when other teams tried to sign them. Borel, like several others, will be gunning for a roster spot come August.
“I have high expectations for myself to just get out there and play football,” Borel said. “I have a year under my belt, so I expect nothing less from myself. That’s how I’ve always been.”
The Minnesota Vikings tried to sign Gurley, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers nearly stole Borel. Both players opted to stay in Green Bay. Familiarity, for one, was a big reason. As Borel points out, there was no guarantee he’d be in Tampa Bay’s 2012 plans. Also, this isn’t a bad place to develop. Ted Thompson has flooded the position with talent since taking over as general manager in 2005.
If the Buccaneers had called Borel earlier in the season, he admits it might have been different. In Green Bay, he learned a new position. On the scout team, the former Utah State quarterback worked at all possible receiver spots. Going to Tampa Bay would have been something like shaking the Etch A Sketch.
Borel opted to stay behind Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, James Jones, Cobb and Driver.
“The competition,” he said. “Competing here, you never know what could happen. Anything could happen. As a football player, when the time comes, you have to focus on yourself during practice, camp; you can’t worry about other people trying to make the team.”
Borel (6 feet and 199 pounds), who added some much-needed muscle over this past year, projects as a slot receiver. Meanwhile, the 6-4 Gurley could give the group a different dimension. There’s Shaky Smithson, too. Like the other two, Smithson was an undrafted pickup by the Packers a year ago.
He spent last season on injured reserve with a shoulder injury. Tagging “FINAO” at the end of his tweets – “Failure Is Not An Option” – Smithson is also hoping for an opportunity.
Smithson says his return skills are an extension of his background in inner-city Baltimore. He isn’t afraid of the chaos around him. Baltimore, he says, is where that “FINAO” motto comes from.
“You can do it, no matter what everybody else says,” Smithson said. “I see tweets. I see what people say. I see this and that. All that stuff is motivation. I just need to step my game up when it’s time to play.”
Last season, the Packers kept five wide receivers and five tight ends on the roster. As Borel notes, maybe that will change. Maybe the Packers will go with six wide receivers. But that’s a conversation for August, not May. Either way, the young receivers say they’d like to see the 37-year-old Driver back.
“Him being here, he’s a leader also for this team,” Borel said. “He’s a great player to learn from – as a man and as a receiver.”
Smithson adds that former Packers receiver Antonio Freeman, who has looked after him in Baltimore, was a mentor for Driver. In meetings throughout last season, Driver was a go-to source of advice.
“Donald remembers what Antonio Freeman did for him when he was a rookie, so he gives back,” Smithson said. “Donald has a great heart, man. He’s a great guy. We’ve both been through tough times. So he knows how it is. He’s not going to take food out of your mouth. He’s going to try to put food in your mouth.”
It will be an overcrowded position.
In addition to these eight players, there are four 2012 undrafted free agents. Dale Moss, a basketball-turned-football star at South Dakota State, acknowledges he took Driver’s uncertain status into consideration when he chose Green Bay but would like to see the veteran back.
“I absolutely would,” Moss said. “He’s a staple of the Packers’ organization. He’d be an amazing guy to learn from. Obviously everybody in Green Bay loves him. And being a young receiver, being able to learn from someone like that would be great.”
Gurley has size.
Smithson has speed.
Borel has that history at quarterback.
It helps him at receiver. On the practice squad, Borel says he was able to read blitzes and disguised coverages.
Now, a decision on Driver looms. If he returns, competition will heat up.
“As a player, I’m just trying to stay focused and do what I’m supposed to do here – special teams, receiver, whatever my role is,” Borel said. “I’ll just grind. And at the end of the preseason, we’ll see what happens from there.”
Full story here