Packers’ Quay Walker, Devonte Wyatt looking to take big steps forward as second-year pros

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — One of the Green Bay Packers’ rookie first-round draft picks last season struggled to get on the field, while the other occasionally had trouble staying there.

Those two second-year pros and former Georgia teammates — defensive tackle Devonte Wyatt and linebacker Quay Walker — must make major strides this season for the Packers to deliver playoff-caliber defense.

“It’s pivotal,” cornerback Jaire Alexander said. “Because those guys will play a big part in our defense, you know? This is their second year, so they’ve got more confidence and they’ve got more knowledge of the game. So I’m excited to see how it’ll play out this year.”

Both had growing pains last season, for different reasons.

Wyatt, taken 28th overall, didn’t play much until the final few games of the season as he backed up more experienced linemen. Walker, the 22nd pick, was an immediate contributor but got ejected from two games, including a season-ending loss to the Detroit Lions that kept the Packers out of the playoffs.

“A lot of kids look up to me, especially back home, so I felt real, real bad about that,” Walker said. “It was hard to reflect on the good season that I had because I left off on a bad note.”

Walker was checking on an injury to Detroit running back and former Georgia teammate D’Andre Swift, when Lions team physician Sean Lynch put his left hand on Walker’s right elbow to move him away. Walker then shoved Lynch in the back.

His other ejection came Oct. 30 after shoving Buffalo Bills practice squad tight end Zach Davidson on the sideline.

“This entire offseason I thought about the two ejections,” Walker said. “It was hard giving myself grace on that, but at the same time, I’ve moved past it.”

Walker said he spent part of the offseason talking with Packers director of performance psychology and team behavioral health clinician Chris Carr to try to figure out what was causing these outbursts.

He believes one possible solution is to be more open.

“I was a person that was real, real closed in, with all my thoughts and everything like that, with the stuff I had going on, but that ain’t really got anything to do with what took place,” Walker said. “But those were the things I did over the offseason to prepare me to not make those same mistakes over again.”

Packers cornerback Eric Stokes, who played alongside Walker and Wyatt at Georgia, says he notices how Walker has become more talkative and is acting similar to the way he was in college.

Walker also has started meditating. It’s something he learned from Alexander, who has meditated regularly since his college years.

“It’s kind of hard, to be honest with you,” Walker said. “But I’m just trying to stick with it. It’ll become easier the more I do it.”

Walker wants to make sure he’s able to keep his emotions in check when games get heated. He understands opposing teams will try to goad him into losing his cool again.

“I know most teams will label me a hothead, so I kind of am already preparing for what’s going to happen and things like that,” Walker said.

Wyatt simply hasn’t played enough to earn any kind of label yet.

He played in only 21.7% of the Packers’ defensive snaps last season. Ninety of his 224 snaps came in the final three games.

He’s expected to have a much bigger role this season for a defensive line that lost much of its depth when Jarran Reed signed with the Seattle Seahawks and Dean Lowry left for the Minnesota Vikings.

“I’m definitely ready,” Wyatt said. “I’ve been working my (rear) off this whole offseason and I’m definitely prepared for this next season coming up.”

Wyatt’s teammates notice the difference.

“He’s way better than last year,” defensive tackle TJ Slaton said. “He’s way ahead of a year ago. I feel like his hands are better, his get off is way faster and I feel like the game has really slowed down for him.”

Stokes can identify with both Wyatt and Walker. He knows them both from their college years. He also was a first-round pick.

He believes his two former Georgia teammates are ready to make a big jump.

“They’re just way more comfortable with everything,” Stokes said. “Especially (Wyatt), toward the end of the season, you could see how comfortable he got. He hit his own little stride. And now Quay’s speaking up and being more talkative like how he used to be. You can see a big improvement for those two.”