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Packers Undrafted Free Agents: Different Paths, Styles for Linebackers

The Packers added Penn State’s Ellis Brooks and Florida Atlantic’s Caliph Brice to a group headlined by De'Vondre Campbell and Krys Barnes.
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GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Green Bay Packers signed two linebackers as undrafted free agents.

One of them, Penn State’s Ellis Brooks, was a high school All-American, played at a college renowned for producing linebackers (Linebacker U), and had 100 tackles as a senior and 230 tackles for his career.

The other, Florida Atlantic’s Caliph Brice, was a two-star recruit coming out of Hutchinson Community College, played for a college that didn’t start playing in the FBS until 2005 and has had only 10 players drafted in its history (including one off-the-ball linebacker), and had a career-high 59 tackles as a fifth-year senior.

By resume, Brooks would appear to be the overwhelming favorite to survive the September roster cuts at a position anchored by All-Pro De’Vondre Campbell and amplified by the addition of first-round pick Quay Walker.

However, athleticism could be the equalizer. At Penn State’s pro day, Brooks measured 6-foot-1 3/8 and 226 pounds. At FAU’s pro day, Brice measured 6-foot-1 1/2 and 233 pounds. So, pretty similar. However, while Brooks ran his 40 in 4.77 seconds and posted a 33 1/2-inch vertical jump, Brice ran his 40 in 4.50 seconds with a 37 1/2-inch vertical.

Brice played at Hutchinson alongside first-round pick Devonte Wyatt. He came off the bench in 2019 before starting his final two seasons. His first career start came in the 2020 opener vs. Charlotte. Brice recorded 10 tackles, then broke down on the field after the victory.

His brother died in May 2020. His brother’s purple bandana is a prized keepsake. He touched it to the casket at the funeral and keeps it tied around his bookbag.

“That was my first game. He was looking forward to watching me play this season,” Brice said in a FAU video feature. “That was the first time [I started] and I did well. After the win, it all just came back to me. It’s like I almost felt him there, and that’s why I broke down.”

He missed three games as a senior with a broken bone that required surgery.

“[Brice has] been through so much and put in so much work to overcome it this offseason, now we are seeing the results,” FAU coach Willie Taggart said at pro day. “He did a good job bench pressing [21 reps at 225 pounds] and ran a good time in the 40. If you do those well, that helps you big time.”

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Brooks brings a physical element to the game that was evident before he suited up for his first game in Happy Valley.

“When Ellis hit people here, it sounded different than everybody else,” Greg Lilly, Brooks’ coach at Benedictine College Prep, told The Collegian. “I can remember his freshman year, we were doing some sort of inside drill and my back was turned to a play.

“I can remember him at fullback blocking the defensive end and when he blew the defensive end up, I can remember turning around and going, ‘What did I just hear?’ The sound that he made when he hit people, the intensity with which he hit people, it made a different sound than most high school kids.”

Brooks and Brice join a position group headlined by Campbell and Walker and including returning starter Krys Barnes (undrafted, 2020), backups Ty Summers (seventh round, 2019) and Isaiah McDuffie (sixth round, 2021), and practice-squad player Ray Wilborn (undrafted, 2020).

Both players logged a considerable number of snaps on special teams in their collegiate careers, and that would be their path to the roster. But, for the most part, it will be their play at linebacker – starting at this week’s rookie minicamp – that will determine whether their career lasts beyond August.

“I feel like it’s a service position at the end of the day,” Brooks told The Draft Network of playing linebacker. “That’s my favorite aspect of playing linebacker. It’s not just a job for yourself, but it’s for your teammates as well. I have to get everybody lined up correctly and get the proper call from the sidelines. You have to make adjustments based on formations and whatnot. I feel like it’s a position that’s all about your teammates. That’s something I really enjoy out of it.”

The Packers' Undrafted Free Agents

Running Backs: Tyler Goodson and B.J. Baylor

Interior Offensive Line: Cole Schneider and George Moore

Offensive Tackles: Jahmir Johnson and Caleb Jones

Receiver: Wisconsin’s Danny Davis

Defensive Linemen: Akial Byers and Hauati Pututau