GREEN BAY — It was hard to tell if the smirk Brian Gutekunst was wearing Monday was mischievous or one of those I-know-something-you-don’t-know deals. Probably a little bit of both.
But as the Green Bay Packers general manager got to the end of an answer about how he uses his 30 allotted pre-draft visits, the smirk clearly appeared.
“Sometimes,” Gutekunst said of those visits, “there's just some subterfuge thrown in there as well.”
Whether Missouri quarterback Drew Lock’s much-publicized pre-draft visit to Lambeau Field was subterfuge, Gutekunst wasn’t about to say. But the second-year GM left the distinct impression during Monday’s pre-draft news conference that bringing Lock to Green Bay was about doing important background research — and not because he’s necessarily looking to use one of his first-round selections on Aaron Rodgers’ successor, or because he’s looking to trick other teams into talking trade with him at No. 12 or 30.
Gutekunst was acutely aware that Brett Favre was 35 years old when GM Ted Thompson chose Rodgers with the 24th overall pick in the 2005 NFL draft. He was also aware that Rodgers celebrated his 35th birthday last December. But 35 + 35 does not equal a redux of that Rodgers selection with Lock, who’s widely considered the No. 3 quarterback prospect in this draft behind Kyler Murray and Dwayne Haskins.
“I think the whole succession plan thing is a little bit overhyped,” Gutekunst said. “I go back to when I first started (under Ron Wolf) and certainly when Ted came back, we value that position extremely highly. And every year we spend a lot of time on the quarterbacks and trying to figure out what kinds of players those guys are going to be in the NFL. It’s really, really important to us. Because if you don’t have one, it’s really tough to win in this league.
“So, for us, it’s just about each and every year, trying to decide which are the guys that could potentially be starters in this league and difference-maker type players, and then if you have the opportunities to take them sometime in the draft and that’s the best thing for your team, I don’t think you can hesitate with that.
“Again, we’re lucky to have the best player in the NFL playing that position right now. But at the same time, your needs can change just like that. I think it was just doing due diligence. There’s always questions specifically with those guys that are maybe a little more thorough and in-depth that you’ve got to get to the bottom of. So we were trying to do that.”
Lock is expected to go in the first round, but as the Packers learned with Rodgers, who was in the conversation to be the No. 1 overall pick in 2005 but wound up spending 4½ hours in the green room waiting to be picked, you never know how the draft will fall.
Gutekunst and the scouting staff, meanwhile, put the finishing touches on their draft board on Monday morning — not that he was going to tell everyone where Lock was on that board.
“You do get to this point where it’s a little dangerous to react too much,” Gutekunst said. “We feel really good about the work we’ve done. (We) kind of closed it up this morning after a couple last-minute things. And I wouldn’t imagine there would be a whole lot of tweaks between now and Thursday.”
Madison’s return a ‘pleasant surprise’
Gutekunst said it was a “really, really pleasant surprise” when offensive lineman Cole Madison, a fifth-round pick out of Washington State last year, reported to the offseason program earlier this month. Madison took part in last year’s offseason program after the draft but then did not report to training camp because of a personal matter, spending the entire season on the reserve/did not report list.
But after a year away, he now is in the mix again. Gutekunst said Madison was in “great shape” and that there are “no limitations” on him after being out of football since last June. Gutekunst also said he thinks new head coach Matt LaFleur’s outside zone scheme might actually be better for Madison — “He actually probably fits this scheme as much if not more than what he was last year,” Gutekunst said — than ex-coach Mike McCarthy’s system.
“It was great to see Cole back in the building and doing some football things again. That was a really, really pleasant surprise,” Gutekunst said. “I think he was very appreciative about the way we handled things last year. We're excited to see what he can do for us because he had a really good offseason last year before everything transpired. Very optimistic.”
Clark’s option ‘expected’
Although the Packers have not officially picked up the fifth-year option on 2016 first-round pick Kenny Clark, Gutekunst indicated it’s a mere formality.
“We haven't yet. Certainly, we're expected (to), though. That'll probably happen here (soon),” Gutekunst said. “We haven't done it yet, but he's obviously a dominant player for us in our defensive front. I think the best is yet to come.”
Clark, who is coming off his best season (six sacks, 55 tackles), said last week that he also expects to build on last season.
“I’ve always got high expectations for myself,” Clark said. “(I’ve) just got to keep making plays and doing whatever I can to make the defense better, whether it’s leadership or my play on the field.”
Gutekunst began his pre-draft chat by recognizing ex-Packers running back Reggie Cobb, who died of a heart attack earlier this week. Cobb was working as a scout for the San Francisco 49ers but got his scouting start in Green Bay. “Really good guy, kind of an extension of our family in the scouting world. Very close to some of our scouts,” Gutekunst said. “So (I) just would like to pass on some condolences and sympathies and prayers for his family.” … Unlike the Oakland Raiders, who reportedly sent all their scouts home late last week because they didn’t want any anonymous sources leaking information to reporters, Gutekunst said his staff is still working even though the board is set. “With Easter falling in the middle of this — we’ve only had this happen a few times — a lot of our guys took off Friday night and went home to see their families on Sunday,” he said. “But they came back this morning and got started.” … Asked about the Packers’ 2019 schedule, Gutekunst pointed to the fact that five of the team’s first seven games are at home. “Interesting how heavy we are at home early,” he said. “But we’ve got to play all 16, you know. … There will be a lot of nice weather games early on at home. I do feel like for the team we’re trying to build, you’d like to have some of those December games here, but it is what it is.”