GREEN BAY, Wis. – On at least two occasions, Aaron Rodgers has gone out of his way to publicly praise rookie receiver Tyrone Walker. The Green Bay Packers quarterback did it during the offseason and again after the team’s scrimmage on Aug. 3.
So when Walker lined up in the slot to the right on third-and-goal from the 2-yard line with the first-team offense in Friday’s preseason opener against the Arizona Cardinals, it would not have been a surprise to see Rodgers look the rookie’s way.
Instead, Rodgers threw to tight end Jermichael Finley, and the pass was knocked away by Cardinals safety Rashad Johnson. In fact, Rodgers didn’t even realize Walker had come in for his first NFL preseason snaps.
When Walker told Rodgers he was open, Walker said Rodgers responded by saying, “You were in?”
“And I was open,” Walker said. “My first-ever snap. My eyes got big.”
Then Walker thought about it for a second and added: “The moment might have been too big for me if he threw it to me.”
Little about the rest of the game was too big for Walker, who led the Packers with five catches, good for 41 yards. Not bad for a guy whose NFL career started with a tryout in the Packers’ rookie orientation camp back in May.
It was his only shot.
But that was a familiar situation for Walker. He said only one college, Illinois State, was interested in him coming out of high school. He went on to set school records for career receptions (250), receiving yards (3,565), touchdown catches (32) and 100-yard receiving games (16).
“I just needed an opportunity,” Walker said. “There’s always one team to take a shot. In college, one team took a shot. I just made the most of the opportunity. Same here.”
Walker might not have gotten this chance had rookie receivers Kevin Dorsey and Charles Johnson – both seventh-round draft picks – not gotten hurt the first weekend of camp. Neither has returned. Also, the Packers were without starting receivers Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson on Friday.
Walker flashed early in camp before the padded practices began. Sometimes players like that disappear when the pads go on. Coach Mike McCarthy even warned of that when he was asked about Walker’s production early in camp.
But Walker was one of the few bright spots for an offense that struggled during the 17-0 loss to the Cardinals.
“I think he definitely took a step tonight,” McCarthy said after the game.
Now, his next task is to back it up.
“No doubt,” Walker said. “Coach said that to me before we even walked off the field. This isn’t really the first taste of success I’ve had.”
At 5-foot-10 and 191 pounds, Walker is the smallest receiver on the Packers’ roster. But he’s never lacked for confidence. When he arrived in Green Bay for his tryout, he said he looked around at the other rookies on the field and knew he measured up.
“I don’t say that,” Walker said. “I may think that, but I don’t say it just because if you say it, what you say can become an action, and you’ll think you’re better than somebody, and you might not work as hard.”