GREEN BAY, Wis. — It didn’t take long for Tyrone Walker to feel that he was making a good impression on the Green Bay Packers’ coaching staff.
Brought in on a tryout basis to the Packers’ rookie orientation camp in May, Walker immediately performed better than a typical undrafted wide receiver who was just hoping to earn a non-guaranteed contract.
“Probably the first day of rookie camp, I had a 50-yard bomb,” Walker said. “It was a rollout play and I just stuttered and took off and I caught a pass that day.”
All that Walker was told at the time by a Green Bay coach was “good play.” But that one successful catch gave Walker confidence about his NFL prospects.
“I thought I was going to make it at that point,” Walker said. “That was just my first memory of being a Packer.”
Walker has had a lot of memorable plays since then and has quickly moved up the Packers’ depth chart. Nearly three weeks into training camp, Walker is getting snaps with Aaron Rodgers and the starting offense on a regular basis. He also led the team in receptions (5) and targets (6) in Green Bay’s first preseason game.
“Tyrone Walker, he has really put together a real consistent last couple weeks,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “Obviously, he had a good performance against the (Arizona) Cardinals. He’s just a really good route runner. He has excellent body language. He’s very easy to read, which is important, particularly from a quarterback’s perspective, getting the timing and the anticipation with him.
“I really like the way he’s progressing.”
Walker isn’t especially fast or very big. Running a 4.59-second 40-yard dash while measuring at 5-foot-10 and 191 pounds isn’t exactly what NFL teams are looking for in a wide receiver.
With the consistency in which Walker catches passes, though, he’s established himself as a player that Rodgers and the backup quarterbacks can count on.
“I think Tyrone’s made the most of it so far,” Rodgers said.
If this all sounds somewhat familiar it’s because a year ago undrafted rookie wide receiver Jarrett Boykin rose up the ranks to make Green Bay’s 53-man roster.
“My goal is to be the Boykin of 2013,” Walker said.
Injuries have given Walker more opportunities to work with the starters. Jordy Nelson is out for the entire preseason after undergoing knee surgery and Randall Cobb has been in and out of the lineup with a right biceps injury. But even before Nelson and Cobb were unavailable, Walker had already made enough plays to be trusted with taking over those important first-team snaps.
“Somebody goes down, you have to take the next-man-up mentality because you can’t let the offense suffer,” Walker said. “We lost a few guys, so somebody else had to step up.”
Simply being healthy has also been a bonus for Walker. The Packers invested two seventh-round picks in wide receivers, drafting Charles Johnson and Kevin Dorsey. However, Johnson has missed all but two practices with a knee injury and Dorsey just returned after sitting out 10 days with a hamstring injury. In the meantime, Walker has clearly rolled past both of them.
Walker has had so few drops and general mistakes that when he finally did, wide receivers coach Edgar Bennett was surprised by it.
“This one day he had one and he was extremely disappointed in that, because he was batting 100 percent as far as no (missed assignments) and no mental errors,” Bennett said. “That’s pretty impressive for a young guy.”
Bennett noticed Walker’s dependable hands right away, describing him as a “hands-catcher” for the way the 22-year-old is able to extend out and grab anything in his area.
That’s nothing new for Walker, who’s always been highly regarded for that skill. It’s also one aspect of his game that has him feeling good about his chances to be a part of Green Bay’s regular-season roster, something that seemed incredibly unlikely three months ago.
“Ball security is job security,” Walker said. “You keep catching the ball, you’ll probably keep your job. That’s what I’ve heard.”
Veteran receivers like Nelson and James Jones have given Walker a lot of encouragement, both privately and publicly. Nelson has told Walker to “be patient, slow down, take your time and work it a little bit.” Playing at Illinois State, Walker was always trying to go as quickly as possible because he believed the offensive line was otherwise likely to give up a sack.
“It’s about being more consistent as a route-runner, creating more separation, using the techniques that we teach to create that separation,” Bennett said. “I think he’s continuing to grow and continuing to get better.”
The advice from Nelson and coaching from Bennett has helped Walker in his fast-paced journey from relative obscurity to the ever-growing probability that he’s catching passes from Rodgers when the Packers fly to San Francisco for their Week 1 matchup.
“When one of the vets vouched for me, started showing that they had trust in me, I think that’s when I started to really get the eye of everyone,” Walker said. “The Big 3, they all saw that I was picking it up and had confidence in what I was doing.”
Considering how well Walker has been playing, the Big 3 of Cobb, Nelson and Jones may soon have a fourth.