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The Green Bay Packers will officially start training camp next week, setting the stage for a new season and providing the opportunity for players to earn roster spots and win specific roles during the month-long process.
Almost every summer, a handful of players – either ones lacking experience or without pre-camp notoriety – end up surprising coaches, teammates and fans during practices and the preseason.
Here are some surprise player candidates at Packers training camp this summer:
S Christian Uphoff
Safety Christian Uphoff (40) Is shown during the first day of Green Bay Packers rookie minicamp Friday, May 14, 2021 in Green Bay, Wis.
Why he could surprise: While from a small school, he has an intriguing blend of size and athleticism, and his college tape at Illinois State shows an attacking player with more than enough versatility to fit into the open hybrid safety/linebacker role in Green Bay. Many thought he would be drafted. Expect him to be an active player around the football during preseason games.
G Simon Stepaniak
Why he could surprise: He didn't play as a rookie while recovering from a knee injury, but the Packers' sixth-round pick in 2020 is a strong and physical guard prospect who can jolt people off the line of scrimmage and finish blocks with a nasty streak in the run game. If he can correct some pass protection issues, he's a real candidate to win a job as a reserve lineman. Don't be surprised if he ruffles some feathers with his playstyle.
Green Bay Packers safety Vernon Scott (36) is shown Saturday, August 15, 2020 during the team's first practice at training camp in Green Bay, Wis.
Why he could surprise: The Packers love his intelligence and the way he attacked a special teams role as a rookie. He was a versatile player at TCU, with experience covering the slot, and he's both big enough and tough enough to play snaps as the hybrid linebacker in the new defense. It's possible he'll win a job as an important special teams member and subpackage defensive contributor during camp.
CB Kabion Ento
Green Bay Packers cornerback Kabion Ento is shown Monday, August 17, 2020, during training camp in Green Bay, Wis.
Why he could surprise: He'll be coming off a lost season due to a significant foot injury, but the Packers developed him on the practice squad for a full season in 2019 and he might have made the final roster to start 2020 after two straight impressive summers. He's a converted receiver who knows how to play the ball in the air, and his powerful jumping ability allows him to disrupt throws at the high point. He could lock down a roster spot by playing all the important gunner roles on special teams.
RB Kylin Hill
Green Bay Packers running back Kylin Hill (32) is shown during a mandatory minicamp Tuesday, June 8, 2021 in Green Bay, Wis.
Why he could surprise: His talent coming out of Mississippi State is undeniable, and there's a spot to be won as the No. 3 running back. He can create with the ball in his hands. He can catch the ball out of the backfield. He has power and agility. His traits will be easy to see at camp. But can he do the little things, like keeping the quarterback clean in pass pro?
WR Juwann Winfree
Green Bay Packers wide receiver Juwann Winfree (88) participates in minicamp practice Wednesday, June 9, 2021, in Green Bay, Wis.
Why he could surprise: He's been in the offense for a full year, and he put together a few impressive practices during the offseason workout program. He could arrive at camp with the confidence necessary to take a big step. Roster spots are limited at receiver, but he could end up a winner if he's a trustworthy target, a reliable run blocker and a contributor on special teams to end the summer.
OLB Tipa Galeai
Green Bay Packers linebacker Tipa Galeai (50) is shown Monday, August 24, 2020 during the team's training camp at Ray Nitschke Field in Ashwaubenon.
Why he could surprise: He doesn't lack pass-rushing talent, and a year in Green Bay likely helped him add some of the size and power he needed to be an NFL-level edge rusher. He's a long, twitchy athlete with the ability to bend around the corner and close down space to the quarterback. It's possible he'll make some noise in the one-on-one drills and during preseason snaps. Roster spots are available as the fourth or fifth player at outside linebacker.
OL Coy Cronk
Offensive lineman Coy Cronk (65) is shown during the first day of Green Bay Packers rookie minicamp Friday, May 14, 2021 in Green Bay, Wis.
Why he could surprise: He might have been a late-round pick without an unfortunate run of injuries to end his collegiate career. He started at left tackle for several seasons but could be a candidate to play all over the line. A fundamentally sound and reliable player in pass pro. Being healthy during camp could allow his talent to shine.
RB Patrick Taylor
Running back Patrick Taylor (27) is shown during the first day of Green Bay Packers rookie minicamp Friday, May 14, 2021 in Green Bay, Wis.
Why he could surprise: He missed his entire first season due to injury, but he possesses intriguing athleticism at his size (6-2, 217) and a well-rounded skill set at the position, which includes some receiving ability out of the backfield and special teams potential. He's the type of undrafted running back that can stick around on a roster for several years. Preseason games could be his time to shine.
P Ryan Winslow
Aug 26, 2020; Glendale, AZ, USA; Arizona Cardinals punter Ryan Winslow (9) during training camp at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher/The Arizona Republic via USA TODAY NETWORK
Why he could surprise: He has experience punting at the NFL level, and while JK Scott is the favorite at punter entering camp, his hold on the roster spot isn't necessarily strong after an inconsistent start to his career. The Packers had him in Green Bay to end last season, and his leg is strong enough to handle kicking in cold weather. He produced a 44.2 net average over six punts and two games with the Cardinals in 2019.
DL T.J. Slaton
Green Bay Packers defensive tackle T.J. Slaton (93) and defensive tackle Tyler Lancaster (95) participate in minicamp practice Tuesday, June 8, 2021, in Green Bay, Wis. Dan Powers/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
Why he could surprise: He had disruptive snaps at Florida, and few on the roster can match his combination of size and movement ability. He could carve out a legitimate role as a rookie if he's impressive during camp. The Packers want someone with his size playing a rotational role along the defensive line.
TE Dominique Dafney
Green Bay Packers tight end Dominique Dafney (49 )leaps past Tennessee Titans cornerback Adoree' Jackson (25) during their football game Sunday, December 27, 2020, at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis. Dan Powers/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
Why he could surprise: He was an effective player for the Packers to end last season, mostly as a move tight end in the offensive scheme but also on special teams. He's a terrific athlete who caught on fast and earned important roles for a good football team. His ability to play a versatile role on offense while also possessing the right mix of size and athleticism for special teams gives him a terrific chance to win back a roster spot this summer.
OL Ben Braden
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Why he could surprise: The Packers love his size, and the team thinks he can be a capable player at both tackle and guard, providing a chance for him to be a valuable backup at offensive tackle with the ability to move inside in a pinch. Versatility is such an important asset for offensive linemen in this scheme. He could be a top backup with a big summer.
QB Kurt Benkert
Quarterback Kurt Benkert (7) is shown during the first day of Green Bay Packers rookie minicamp Friday, May 14, 2021 in Green Bay, Wis.
Why he could surprise: He was the second-best quarterback on the team during OTAs and the minicamp. His strong arm and three years of experience in Atlanta could give him a real shot at sticking in Green Bay in 2021, regardless of how the quarterback situation shakes out at the top. Avoiding turnovers and poor decisions during camp and the preseason will be key.
DL Jack Heflin
Defensive lineman Jack Heflin (90) Is shown during the first day of Green Bay Packers rookie minicamp Friday, May 14, 2021 in Green Bay, Wis.
Why he could surprise: He was a dominant player at times at Northern Illinois and Iowa, and it's possible the Packers will fall in love with his power and tenacity as an interior defender during camp. Defensive line depth is lacking. He's the type of player who could outwork everyone around him and force his way onto the roster or practice squad.
OL Royce Newman
Offensive lineman Royce Newman (70) is shown during the first day of Green Bay Packers rookie minicamp Friday, May 14, 2021 in Green Bay, Wis.
Why he could surprise: The fourth-round pick got reps with the No. 1 offense during the offseason program. The Packers love the way he fires off the ball and positions himself early in the snap. Could he be a surprise rookie starter along the offensive line, especially if David Bakhtiari can't go in Week 1? Remember, he started at both guard and tackle at Ole Miss.
Green Bay Packers cornerback Stanford Samuels III (34) is shown Saturday, August 15, 2020 during the team's first practice at training camp in Green Bay, Wis.
CB Stanford Samuels: A highly-regarded undrafted free agent who stuck around for a full season in 2020. OLB Delontae Scott: Productive college rusher with unreal length. S Innis Gaines: He can really run and hit, so expect him to be all over the place on special teams. LB Isaiah McDuffie: Sixth-round pick will get every opportunity to be a core special teams player as a rookie. WR Malik Taylor: He must win a roster spot with special teams, but can he be a bigger part of the puzzle on offense?