sternberger 6-10

Packers' Jace Sternberger had three receptions for 46 yards during last season's 28-22 loss to the Vikings at Lambeau Field.

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GREEN BAY — And then, there were five — quarterbacks. With one’s future with the team still unclear.

While the Green Bay Packers continue to reiterate their position regarding reigning NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers — “We remain committed to resolving things with Aaron and want him to be our quarterback in 2021 and beyond,” team president/CEO Mark Murphy wrote in his monthly column on the team website last week — the organization continues to add quarterbacks to the roster.

Get to know all nine players taken by the Green Bay Packers in the 2021 NFL Draft.

The latest? Jake Dolegala, who took part in the team’s three-day minicamp on a tryout basis and was officially signed Thursday, despite having gotten limited work during 11-on-11 periods at the three open-to-the-media practices.

Dolegala joins a quarterback depth chart with Rodgers at the top in spite of his absence from the minicamp; 2020 first-round pick Jordan Love, whose performance over the three-day camp fluctuated between erratic (Tuesday), fantastic (Wednesday) and OK (Thursday); veteran Blake Bortles, the longtime Jacksonville Jaguars starter who was added earlier this offseason; and Kurt Benkert, who earned a roster spot with a strong showing during a tryout at the team’s post-draft rookie minicamp last month.

Before Rodgers’ dissatisfaction with the organization spilled into the public eye on April 29, several hours before the start of the 2021 NFL draft, the only quarterbacks on the Packers’ roster were Rodgers and Love.

Dolegala entered the league as an undrafted free agent from Central Connecticut in 2019 with the Cincinnati Bengals and spent that entire season on the 53-man roster, seeing action in one game. He earned a roster spot that year with a strong preseason performance, completing 69.8% of his passes for 347 yards and two touchdowns (100.1 quarterback rating) but was released at the end of camp last summer and spent most of last season on the New England Patriots’ practice squad.

The 6-foot-7, 242-pound Dolegala completed 654 of 1,136 passes (57.6%) and set school records for career passing yards (8,129) and passing touchdowns (48). The Packers released defensive lineman Anthony Rush to create a roster spot for Dolegala.

Sternberger suspended

Tight end Jace Sternberger, who has struggled to earn consistent playing time during his first two seasons, was suspended without pay for the first two games of the 2021 season for violating the NFL’s policy on substances of abuse, the league announced.

A third-round pick in general manager Brian Gutekunst’s second draft as GM in 2019, Sternberger has played in 20 games (including playoffs) in his career, catching 12 passes for 114 yards and one touchdown in regular-season play and three passes for 15 yards and a touchdown in the postseason.

Those postseason numbers as a rookie in 2019 seemed to set the table for a big step forward in 2020 after starting his rookie season on injured reserve with an ankle injury, but Sternberger missed much of training camp after contracting COVID-19. He then was inactive for the final two regular-season games and both playoff games as a healthy scratch.

He was already facing a challenging road to earning a roster spot this summer, with Robert Tonyan having emerged as one of the league’s best young pass-catchers; ageless Marcedes Lewis back for another season; 2020 third-round pick Josiah Deguara coming back from a torn ACL suffered early last season; and little-known Dominque Dafney in the mix after moving ahead of Sternberger in the rotation late in the year.

Sternberger took part in the team’s minicamp this week and can take part in training camp and preseason games. He will miss the Sept. 12 opener at New Orleans and the Sept. 20 game against Detroit at Lambeau Field if he makes the team.

Sternberger issued a statement later Thursday, saying the suspension stems from a February 2020 incident where he drank alcohol while using anti-depressant medication and it led to him falling asleep behind the wheel of his vehicle. He said his coaches and teammates were “the first to know” and called his actions “a horrible decision.”

Sternberger also said he has been in therapy the past 16 months and has “owned up to my poor decision and accept the consequences.”

Packers set for ‘full capacity’

The Packers announced they will be at full fan capacity for all events — from preseason and regular-season games, to the annual shareholder meeting, to training-camp practice and the annual Family Night practice inside Lambeau Field.

Fully-vaccinated fans will not be required to wear masks. And while the team said it will continue to ask guests who are unvaccinated to follow CDC guidelines by wearing masks, proof of vaccination will not be required.

“The Packers are planning for the season and the various activities that annually help all of us get excited for the return of football,” Murphy said in a statement. “We continue to encourage individuals to follow CDC recommendations, including getting vaccinated, as it greatly reduces risk of viral infection and transmission in fully vaccinated individuals. We look forward to once again experiencing the incredible atmosphere our fans provide at training camp, games and events.”

The team’s training-camp practice schedule is not yet set, but the shareholders meeting will be held on July 26, and Family Night will be August 7. NFL teams are set to kick off training camp on July 27.

Meanwhile, Packers coach Matt LaFleur said following practice the team is “not quite there” in terms of getting its players vaccinated. Unvaccinated players and staffers are subject to more stringent testing and limitations in terms of their ability to move around the team facility or attend in-person meetings.

“Certainly, we’ll encourage everybody because I do think there’s an advantage if you do get vaccinated. There’s a lot less worry in terms of close contacts, missing games,” LaFleur said. “I know that affects guys differently, in terms of whether or not they get paid and whatnot based on their contracts.

“Walking around without a mask is definitely a free feeling, so we’re going to encourage all the guys to get the vaccine. But ultimately, it’s their decision.”

Asked what’s causing those players’ reluctance, LaFleur replied: “To be honest with you, I don’t really know. I do think there’s probably some misinformation out there regarding the vaccination process and what it does to you. … We’ve tried to educate these guys as best we can. I think that’s all we can do.”

 

This article originally ran on madison.com.