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Green Bay's rookies answer the call and help Packers cope with early-season injuries to veterans


GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — The Green Bay Packers’ “TikTok babies” are showing that their time has arrived.

With the NFL’s youngest roster in the first year of their post-Aaron Rodgers era, the Packers (1-1) are leaning heavily on their 13-man draft class as they prepare for their home opener Sunday against the New Orleans Saints (2-0). Rookies accounted for all the Packers’ points in their 25-24 loss to the Atlanta Falcons.

“I remember coming into rookie minicamp, all of us just coming in like lost flies,” said wide receiver Jayden Reed, a second-round pick from Michigan State. “We didn’t know what to do. And then as time went on, we communicated better as a group. That helped us learn the playbook better and just become better rookies.”

They sure don’t look lost anymore.

Reed reached the end zone twice against the Falcons. Dontayvion Wicks, a fifth-round selection from Virginia, scored Green Bay’s other touchdown. Anders Carlson, a sixth-round pick from Auburn, kicked a 33-yard field goal and was 3 of 3 on extra-point attempts.

First-round pick Lukas Van Ness of Iowa and sixth-round selection Karl Brooks from Bowling Green each recorded a sack and Carlson kicked a 52-yard field goal in a season-opening 38-20 victory at Chicago. Tight end Luke Musgrave, a second-round pick from Oregon State, has five catches for 75 yards this season.

“I think that the initial exposure to them, you could tell it was a talented bunch,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said. “And then as you get to learn them and you get to see how much they care about football and the work that they put in, you know it’s got a chance to be a really special group.”

That reflects the changing face of the Packers as they adapt to life without Rodgers, the four-time MVP quarterback now with the New York Jets.

The average age of the players on the Packers’ season-opening roster was 25.13, making them the league’s youngest team. Veteran outside linebacker Preston Smith, one of only three Packers in their 30s, discussed before the season how different this team looked with so many younger players.

“These kids are TikTok babies,” Smith said at the time. “They’re technology kids. I was an outside kid growing up. It’s just different, man. It’s probably like when I was young (and teammates said), ‘Oh man, I don’t ever see myself playing with a kid born in the ‘90s.’ Now, I’m playing with a bunch of 2000 babies. These kids don’t even know about some of the cartoons I saw growing up. They’re from this new age — anime and stuff like that.”

They’ve found a way to thrive together.

Van Ness, the 13th overall pick in this year's draft, credits Smith for setting an example.

“He’s just a great guy to listen to, sit back and see how he processes the game,” Van Ness said. “I’ve learned a lot from him.”

Green Bay’s receivers don’t have the luxury of working alongside older veterans.

When Wicks talks about the “older guys” in the receiving room who have helped the rookies out, he’s referring to second-year pros Christian Watson, Romeo Doubs, Samori Toure and Bo Melton. That shows just how little experience the Packers have at that position.

Reed took a flip pass from Jordan Love in the backfield and turned it into a 9-yard touchdown in the second quarter of the Falcons game. Wicks had a 32-yard touchdown catch and Reed scored on a 10-yard reception in the third quarter.

Wicks missed part of the preseason with a hamstring issue, but he’s returned and helped the Packers withstand hamstring injuries to Watson and veteran running back Aaron Jones.

“I was down a lot in camp, and I know injuries happen,” Wicks said. “So (it was a matter of) just waiting on that moment, and when it did come, stepping up and being able to be trusted out there.”

Musgrave says he and the rookie wideouts have benefited from Love’s leadership. Even though Love has made just three career starts, his status as a fourth-year pro makes him one of the more experienced guys in this offense.

“He’s a great commander out there,” Musgrave said. “He’s able to command the offense well and is kind of a comforting sense in the huddle. I’d attribute a lot of it to him and the coaching we get.”

Their immediate success has the rookie pass catchers wondering how good this offense can be when their veterans are healthy enough to join them.

“Man, I just think it will get scary once all the pieces get put together,” Reed said. “That’s what I’m looking forward to.”

NOTES: Jones, Watson, Van Ness (elbow), OT David Bakhtiari (knee) and CB Jaire Alexander (back) are all questionable for Sunday’s game. OG Elgton Jenkins (knee) and S Zayne Anderson (hamstring) have been ruled out.


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