For the second time in as many years, the Green Bay Packers will begin the season with three undrafted free agents on their 53-man roster. A year after undrafted rookies cornerback Sam Shields, outside linebacker Frank Zombo, and offensive lineman Nick McDonald found spots on the roster, safety M.D. Jennings and outside linebackers Vic So’oto and Jamari Lattimore made the 53-man roster after not being selected in April’s NFL draft.
So who exactly are these guys? Here’s a look.
M.D. Jennings, safety
What’s his story: The former Arkansas State safety chose the Red Wolves over the likes of Ole Miss and Mississippi State in order to see immediate playing time. After redshirting in 2006, he saw action in 12 games his freshman year, all as a reserve. He started his sophomore season and recorded a team-high three interceptions, five pass break-ups and 67 tackles. In 2009, he recorded 64 tackles, a team-high six pass break-ups and an interception. He was named to the All-Sun Belt Conference first team in 2010 when he recorded 84 tackles (second on the team), three interceptions, and a sack.
Why wasn’t he drafted: As it is for most undrafted rookies, especially the three who made the Packers’ 2011 roster, Jennings is undersized. Some scouts projected that Jennings would be a nickel corner at the next level due to his 187-pound frame, but for now the Packers project him as a safety. His ball skills were a plus but, despite 225 tackles over his last three years, his run support lacked. His 4.60 40-yard dash was just average.
What he does for the Packers: Other than Charlie Peprah, the Packers had little depth at the safety position entering 2011. Cornerbacks Jarrett Bush and Brandon Underwood (cut) had the ability to play safety if needed, but Bush is much better as a cornerback and Underwood was let go. That left an opening for a reserve behind Collins, and Jennings was that man.
He will primarily act as a special teams ace but he showed promise during the preseason as a safety, totaling 11 tackles and an interception. He beat out Anthony Levine and Anthony Bratton for the final spot.
Vic So’oto, outside linebacker
What’s his story:
The date was October 5, 2009.
Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre’s first game against his former team, the Green Bay Packers, had been overshadowed by the five turnstiles in front of Aaron Rodgers. The Packers allowed eight sacks after left tackle Chad Clifton left with an ankle injury. Daryn Colledge and T.J. Lang unsuccessfully attempted to stop defensive end Jared Allen, who finished with 4.5 sacks, and three other defenders recorded sacks in the 30-23 loss.
Fast forward 22 months, to 2011 Packers training camp, and the Packers can actually say their offensive line is a strong suit on their already high-powered offense.
Mainstays left tackle Chad Clifton, center Scott Wells, and right guard Josh Sitton have proved their worth and are locked into starting roles entering the season. Right tackle Bryan Bulaga, who took over for Mark Tauscher midway through last season, seems to be locked into his position as well.