GREEN BAY, Wis. – Through his football career, Green Bay Packers quarterback Danny Etling figures he’s seen 41 of the 50 states. He spent time with five NFL teams last year alone.
“It’s been a weird one,” Etling said during a break in organized team activities. “Time flies.”
Etling started his collegiate career at Purdue before transferring to LSU and starting as a junior in 2016 and senior in 2017. Following a final season of 16 touchdowns vs. two interceptions, Etling was drafted in the seventh round by the New England Patriots in 2018. His rookie preseason ended with a game against the New York Giants.
“I hadn’t got to play a lot in the preseason up to that point,” he said. “I think they were trying to stash me, but they let me play and I had a long run, and that’s when they first opened their eyes to some of my athleticism.”
That long run was an 86-yard touchdown. It wasn’t enough to win him a roster spot, but it started the wheels in motion for a unique NFL odyssey that has him in a pretty good spot with the Packers ahead of the start of training camp later this month.
A herniated disc that dogged him throughout college had been repaired via a microdiscectomy. After running his 40-yard dash in 4.76 seconds at the 2018 Scouting Combine, a healthy Etling suddenly showed he had some wheels. That touchdown run piqued the Patriots’ interest.
When training camp opened in 2019, Etling had been moved to receiver.
If only it were that simple.
“Throughout that [rookie] year, I still played quarterback and they really liked my progression, but they drafted a kid [Jarrett Stidham in the fourth round in 2019] so it was a crowded room and I wasn’t getting a lot of reps,” Etling recalled.
“Unfortunately, they told me the first day of camp that I was moving, so I didn’t have a whole lot of time to prepare. My first day of camp my second year, they said, ‘Hey, we need help in the receiver room.’ I said, ‘OK, sure, I’ll help out today.’ Out of nowhere, the next thing I knew, I was answering questions about switching to receiver. I was like, ‘I haven’t really prepped for this.’ I think things might have gone differently if I had even an offseason to prepare.”
Etling hadn’t played receiver in his life. And he hadn’t played special teams until he was told just before the first preseason game that he’d be playing all four phases. Not surprisingly, the unprepared Etling was released midway through training camp. He was claimed off waivers the next day by the Atlanta Falcons and moved back to quarterback.
A week later, he was running the Falcons’ offense in the third preseason game.
“I didn’t know anyone in the huddle,” Etling said.
A week after that, Etling played most of the preseason finale. He did well enough to earn a spot on the practice squad, where he spent the entire 2019 season. The Falcons released him midway through camp in 2020, and the Seahawks claimed him off waivers.
“I show up first day and I’m like, ‘Hey, Pete Carroll, nice to meet you,’” Etling recalled. “He goes, ‘Oh, great. We’re going to have a scrimmage today and we’re live and it’s the first-team defense.’”
Like the previous season in Atlanta, Etling did enough to stick around on the practice squad for the entire 2020 season. Early in camp last summer, the Seahawks released Etling in favor of veteran Sean Mannion. That set the stage for a nomadic 2021 season in which Etling spent part of training camp with the Vikings and served practice-squad stints with Seattle, Denver, Green Bay and Jacksonville.
In late January, the Packers brought back Etling on a futures deal. He spent the offseason working with Aaron Rodgers, Jordan Love and Kurt Benkert. With last month’s release of Benkert, Etling will enter training camp as the No. 3 quarterback and with an obvious path to sticking around for the year.
“I’m just always thankful,” Etling said when asked about his opportunity. “I’m going into Year 5 and I’m still playing the game I love. You just focus on your own self and your own work. With how much you move around in this league, you focus on being thankful for the opportunities you have and being thankful for getting to play a game you love. You don’t really worry so much about the end product of making a roster. It’s all just about the journey leading up to it. What I’ve learned is the fun part is the journey of each new place and each new thing.”
Having joined the Falcons and Seahawks during the middle of their training camps, Etling will be in the unusual but welcome position of starting training camp with some comfort in the offense he’ll be running and with some relationships with the coaches and teammates.
That means he’ll enter this training camp with a bit of a different focus.
“Once you learn football, football’s football. It’s just a matter of learning the small details within an offense and also learning why you’re calling a play,” Etling said. “Different coaches have different ways of seeing the game and why they might call a certain play against a certain defense, and why we might have a protection slide this way or why you might do a certain formation.
“Every team is so different with their idiosyncrasies that it’s cool to learn but it takes time. You can’t just do it overnight. That’s the one thing that you don’t quite have comfortability with but, other stuff, football’s football. A lot of the plays are plug-and-play. That’s the stuff that’s been easier to grasp. The littler things, the details, are things that I’ve been really working hard with with the coaches.”
Etling’s journey might not seem ideal. Certainly, he’d love to have planted some roots and gained some career stability by now. But he views his career through nothing but a prism of positivity.
“It’s a totally different journey than maybe you would expect but it’s been learning from a lot of great quarterbacks and a lot of great coaches and a lot of ways to play the game of football,” he said. “It’s been really a blessing in disguise. It’s been difficult but it’s been pretty cool. I’ve seen 41 of the 50 states just through football and I’m only 27, so I’m living life in a pretty cool way.”
More Packers Roster Countdown
No. 89: DT Chris Slayton
Jersey No. 60; 6-3, 307; first year; Syracuse
The Packers signed Slayton off waivers from the 49ers in May. A seventh-round draft by the Giants in 2019, he has not played in a regular-season game. He’s served stints on practice squads with the Giants, Bills, Falcons, Steelers and 49ers.
At Syracuse, Slayton played in 49 games, including 42 starts. He tallied 107 tackles, including 32.5 tackles for losses and 9.5 sacks, and added five forced fumbles. He finished his career ranked ninth in school history in TFLs. As a senior captain, he was third-team all-ACC with 3.5 sacks and eight TFLs.
Slayton didn’t play football until high school. When he first tried the sport, he wanted to play quarterback. Already a big guy, the coaches pointed him to the defensive line.
No. 88: DT Hauati Pututau
Jersey No. 79; 6-3, 306; R; Utah
Pro Bowl defensive tackle Kenny Clark, who is entering his seventh NFL season, is 26. So is Pututau, an undrafted free agent from Utah.
As a senior at Cottonwood High School in Salt Lake City in 2013, Pututau was an all-region linebacker who also played receiver. He chose Utah, then went on his two-year Mormon mission to Florida.
“I gained a few pounds on my mission,” he said last season.
Pututau redshirted in 2016 and made his first starts in 2019 (one) and 2020 (three). In 2021, he took advantage of the NCAA’s COVID year. He played in 14 games with eight starts, tallying three sacks and 4.5 tackles for losses among 18 tackles.
Pututau is one of eight children. Two of them, Fua and Tennessee, also played on the Utes’ defensive line.
He is proud of his heritage.
“Tongan people are very prideful,” Pututau said. “We pride ourselves in who we are and who we portray to others who we are. As a Tongan you don’t show weakness and here at Utah that is what they stand for is you show no weakness. You work hard and the results will come. Being Tongan is what keeps me going, motivates me to be a hard worker and to develop a good work ethic each and every day we are out here on the field.”
The Packers gave him an $8,000 signing bonus, tied for tops on the team. He missed most of the offseason practices with an undisclosed injury.
No. 87: DT Akial Byers
Jersey No. 98; 6-3, 308; R; Missouri
Byers is an undrafted free agent who might have some untapped potential. At Fayetteville (Ark.) High School, he was an Under Armour All-American, a four-star recruit and a top-20 defensive lineman.
As a fifth-year senior in 2021, Byers played in 12 games with 10 starts. He had 1.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for losses among his 23 total tackles. In 52 career games, he registered two sacks and nine TFLs. He scored a touchdown vs. his hometown Arkansas Razorbacks when he pounced on a fumble in the end zone in 2018.
Byers took advantage of the NCAA’s “COVID year” and played a fifth season. He changed his jersey to No. 0 and worked under former Packers defensive line coach Jethro Franklin. Headed into his final season, he called himself a “great” run-stopper.
“(Franklin) pushes us to get better every day no matter where it's at, on the field, or just in the weight room," Byers said at SEC Media Days. “He wants us out there working together, working on our footwork, hand placement, anything, or even just learning the playbook. And I think that's a big thing. He teaches us something new every day. So, every time we go into a meeting room, it's like you're in the classroom learning new things. I take every day we're meeting seriously.”
The Packers gave him an $8,000 signing bonus, tied for tops on the team.
No. 86: T/G George Moore
Jersey No. 77; 6-6, 312; R; Oregon
Moore won’t be fazed by going up against the likes of Rashan Gary or Kenny Clark during training camp. At Oregon, he battled Kayvon Thibodeaux, who was selected fifth overall by the Giants in this year’s draft.
“(Former Oregon coach Mario) Cristobal is a big believer in the whole ‘iron sharpens iron’ mentality,” Moore told SI.com’s The Spun. “Our front seven was amazing with Kayvon Thibodeaux and several others. All those guys are amazing football players, have high IQs, and made practices tough. We would go head-to-head every single day because we knew that’s what we needed to do to give ourself an opportunity on Saturdays. We knew that we’d need to be physical throughout the week to make sure it helps us have success during games.”
Moore started his college career in 2015 at The College of San Mateo. He missed that first season with a torn ACL but was a star in 2016, which made him the top-ranked offensive tackle in junior college. That opened the door to Oregon. After sitting behind Tyrell Crosby and Penei Sewell, Moore wound up starting 20 of a possible 21 games for the Ducks in 2020 and 2021. During his final season, Moore started six games at left tackle and seven games at left guard. According to PFF, he allowed three sacks at each position.
“I’m really proud of George Moore,” Cristobal said. “He didn’t play much high school football before he got to junior college, and when he got here, that’s a baptism by fire because he went into a group with some really seasoned upperclassmen that held themselves to a high standard, and George just kept at it. He allowed us to push him, and he’s really become a good football player.”
With seven years of college ball under his belt, Moore will turn 26 during the first week of training camp. He was older than the Ducks’ graduate assistant line coach last year, and he’s older than last year’s starting interior trio of Jon Runyan, Josh Myers and Royce Newman.
The Packers gave him an $8,000 signing bonus, tied for tops on the team.
No. 85: C/G Cole Schneider
Jersey No. 64; 6-3, 309; R; Central Florida
Asked which of the Packers’ undrafted free agents had the best chance of making the team and developing into a contributor, one team’s college scouting director pointed to Schneider.
Schneider started 47 games in four seasons at UCF, with 46 of those appearances at guard and one at center.
“He can play any of the inside positions whether it be right guard, left guard, or center,” UCF offensive line coach Herb Hand told The Fort Myers News-Press. “I think that's been invaluable, that's going to pay dividends because you're bringing great value to an organization to be able to play multiple positions.”
Lucas Patrick can attest to that. An undrafted free agent in 2016, he started 28 games at the three interior positions the last two seasons. Patrick signed with the rival Chicago Bears in free agency.
With an eye on getting a ready-made utilityman, the Packers used a fourth-round draft pick on Wake Forest’s Zach Tom. Like Schneider, Tom spent the offseason practices shifting between center and guard. So, it might be a tall order for Schneider to make the 53-man roster. He could be up for the challenge. As a senior, he did not allow a sack, according to Pro Football Focus, and ranked No. 1 among guards in its pass-blocking efficiency, which measures sacks, hits and hurries per pass-protecting snap.
At Riverdale High School in Fort Myers, Fla., he was a two-time state heavyweight champion in wrestling. A dominant two-sport star, he was voted the News-Press’s athlete of the decade. Among the athletes he beat out for the award was Packers receiver and fellow Fort Myers native Sammy Watkins.
“He pulls with ill intentions and tries to kill people,” UCF right tackle Marcus Tatum, who signed with the Jaguars, told The News-Press at pro day. “You couldn’t ask for a better guard than that. I knew when he was pulling in front of me that the (defender) was going to get moved. He’s willing to put his body on the line for anybody and is an all-around good person. He’s always been there for me, always helped me. He let me lean on him the moment I got here.”
The Packers gave Schneider an $8,000 signing bonus, tied for tops on the team.
No. 84: OT Caleb Jones
Jersey No. 72; 6-9, 370; rookie; Indiana
Caleb Jones, if he ever plays in a game for the Packers, would be the biggest player in franchise history.
Here is the story on Jones, a man so big he deserves his own headline.
No. 83: TE Eli Wolf
Jersey No. 48; 6-4, 238; first year; Georgia
Wolf is used to taking the challenging route.
Wolf was a walk-on at Tennessee in 2015. That’s where his brother, Ethan, who served a couple stints on the Packers’ practice squad in 2018 and 2019, was also a tight end.
When Wolf arrived on campus, he tipped the scales at merely 205 pounds. But he took his shot in the SEC rather than grabbing the scholarship offer to Eastern Michigan.
“I remember sometimes waking up middle of the night, setting an alarm, eating a peanut butter sandwich or something quick, and drinking protein shakes three times a day,” Wolf recalled in September 2019. “The weight room was huge, too. And since I’ve gotten here, the weight room has done nothing but help me put that weight on and keep that weight on.
“It took a while, and it was hard mentally and physically to get there, but I never looked at my weight and said, ‘Hey, if I’m 220, I’m not going to be able to perform’. I always looked at it if I’m 220, I’m still going to be able to do what everybody at 240 can. I may not be as heavy but I’ll be just as strong as every tight end in the country, and I took that as a personal challenge.”
Wolf worked for two seasons on his own dime before getting a scholarship in August 2017. Coach Butch Jones found a unique way to break the news.
In 2019, Wolf transferred to Georgia for his final season. He caught 13 passes for 194 yards and one touchdown, giving him career totals of 21 receptions for 272 yards and two touchdowns. He spent all of 2020 on the Ravens’ practice squad and the second half of the 2021 season on the Colts’ practice squad. The Packers added him in May.