Packers Release Defensive Lineman Ahead of Training Camp

Packers Cut to 80

Getty Head coach Matt LaFleur of the Green Bay Packers looks on from the sideline in the fourth quarter of the game against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium on November 24, 2019 in Santa Clara, California.

The Green Bay Packers have waived second-year defensive lineman Gerald Willis III from their 2020 offseason roster to begin complying with new training camp limits.

The NFL directed all 32 teams to trim their 90-man offseason rosters to just 80 players before beginning full-squad training camp practices this summer under the league’s new COVID-19 guidelines, agreeing the the measure with the NFLPA to assist with social distancing.

Willis, who the Packers claimed off the waivers days before the 2020 NFL draft, never got the opportunity to play a practice snap in Green Bay after the downsized (and virtual) offseason saw the elimination of traditonal OTAs. Now, the 24-year-old defensive tackle must hope he can find a place on another team’s limited training camp roster ahead of his second season.

Willis signed with the Baltimore Ravens last spring as an undrafted free agent and spent training camp with the team before getting released at the roster cutdown deadline on Aug. 31. Days later, he landed on the Miami Dolphins’ practice squad and, by late November, had worked his way onto the active roster. He made two tackles in two games before a hip injury sent him to the injured reserve list and ended his season.

The Packers now have 88 players on their active roster, which means they can be expected to shed another eight players — likely undrafted free agents — in the coming days as training camp gets underway. Players will begin reporting for COVID-19 testing on Tuesday, the start of a four-day testing period that must be administered before any can report to team facilities.

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No Preseason Games Hurts Newcomer Packers

The elimination of preseason games presents some obvious benefits to veterans who are secure in their roles and would rather not risk their bodies, but there are also plenty of players who will suffer due to the lack of exhibition opportunities.

For instance, CFL standout Reggie Begelton has been an interesting Packers prospect for nearly all of 2020 after signing his futures contract with the team in January. The 26-year-old wide receiver caught 102 passes for 1,444 yards and 10 touchdowns in his third year with the Calgary Stampeders and was named a CFL All-Star, bringing him enough prestige to catch the Packers’ eye and make his leap to the NFL.

The problem is, without preseason games to showcase his talents, Begelton must contend for limited roster spots with a group of wideouts who nearly all have some experience within the Packers’ system. The only other newcomer is Devin Funchess, who was one of the team’s few free-agent signings and comes with NFL receiving success on his resume.

The undrafted free agents who are spared from the initial roster cutdown to 80 players will also face an even steeper battle than most preseasons, as the loss of invaluable live reps from exhibition games keeps the lesser-knowns under the radar.

Fortunately, the NFL is also reportedly increasing the size of practice squads from 12 to 16 members as well as making it easier for players to transition to and from the active roster, leaving some opportunities for standouts just under the cut to stick around.

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