INDIANAPOLIS––Seeing as Jermichael Finley and Andrew Quarless are both scheduled to become free agents in March, it hasn't escaped Wisconsin tight end Jacob Pedersen that the Packers could potentially use some help at the position.
Staying in-state where he played his college football would be ideal for Pedersen, who's at the NFL Combine this week, the equivalent of a job interview in professional football.
"Aaron Rodgers, to start my career playing with a Hall of Fame quarterback, that’d definitely be something special," said Pedersen. "Eddie Lacy definitely brought a different aspect to Green Bay that I thought they’ve always needed. He’s played real well for them. "
"They’re a good team. They’re always a game or two away from making it to the Super Bowl again. Grew up cheering for them, so it’d obviously be a childhood dream. But whatever team I get on, I’m going to be fortunate and just go there and play the best I can."
A native of Menominee, Mich.––about a 45-minute drive from Green Bay––Pedersen is considered a mid-round prospect by many media outlets, but was highly productive over the course of his career at Wisconsin, catching 104 passes for 1,394 yards and 17 touchdowns over four years.
Measuring in at 6-3 and 238 lbs. Pedersen doesn't have quite the size as some of the top tight ends in this year's draft class, but he does have plenty of versatility.
"I can line up as 'H,' as fullback, as a 'Y,'" said Pedersen. "I can motion in the backfield; I can put my hand in the dirt; I can block in-line; I can block zone; I can run play-action. I’ve learned three offenses. In my time I’ve had four position coaches; transition doesn’t bother me. Just all that together I feel like is a great strength for me."
Former Teammate Gets Advice from Datone Jones
Datone Jones knows what it took to become a first round draft choice in the NFL and now he's paying it back, at least according to his former teammate at UCLA, offensive lineman Xavier Su'a-Filo.
Considered one of the best interior linemen in this year's draft class––perhaps the best––Su'a-Filo received advice from the Green Bay Packers defensive lineman on what it's like to go through the rigors of the NFL Combine.
"I got to go against him a lot in practice, so I was happy for him last year getting drafted by Green Bay," said Su'a-Filo. "I asked him for advice coming here to the Combine. He just said enjoy it, work hard and remember to take each event one day at a time. And I think that was the best advice I could get, to really establish your brand, show them who you are and work hard.”
Su'a-Filo declared for the NFL draft following his junior season after seeing his stock climb when he switched from guard to tackle when injuries felled his teammates.
Normally the Bruins' left guard for all 14 games in 2012 and seven games in 2013, Su'a-Filo helped keep the ship afloat in Westwood on their way to a 10-3 season and a win in the Sun Bowl over Virginia Tech by switching to left tackle.
Credit was given to former Packers tackle Adrian Klemm––now UCLA's offensive line coach on Jim Mora's staff––for easing Su'a-Filo through his transition.
"My offensive line coach with our young offensive line, he had me take a lot of reps just to stay fresh," said Su'a-Filo. "When I was a true freshman in 2009, I started at left tackle. So it wasn’t real foreign to me. After a little while of not playing it, all it took was a few extra reps in practice for me to feel comfortable there again and I think it felt good playing both positions."
Despite his ability to play tackle, Su'a-Filo is viewed as a guard in the NFL. Not unlike with the Packers do with many of their offensive linemen, they look for athletic left tackles to shift inside at the next level, and Su'a-Filo seems to fit that mold.
With Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang playing at a high level and holding down the fort in Green Bay, it's doubtful the Packers will be interested in Su'a-Filo, especially with so many other needs to be filled in the first few rounds. But wherever he does go, Su'a-Filo will have plenty of Packers connections to accredit for reaching the NFL.
Punting the Packers Way
Houston's Richie Leone, considered among the top punters in this year's draft class, has been mentored by a former Green Bay Packers punter along his route to the NFL in Louie Aguiar.
While at the East-West Shrine Game, Aguiar was Leone's special teams coach on the West squad, but the relationship goes back even further.
"He did a really good job," said Leone. "I met Louie when I was a sophomore in high school. I ran a couple camps that I attended, so we had a previous history. It was so awesome to see him, and we worked together, and taught me some really good tips."
As part of a 10-year career, Aguiar was the Packers' punter in 1999 and was previously an All-Pro with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Leone leaves Houston looking for a spot in the NFL after averaging 43.1 yards on his punts over a four-year college career. Among his most impressive statistics is placing 34 punts inside the 20 in 2013.
Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor of Cheesehead TV's "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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