The Packers’ Director of Football Operations is a UT CBA Grad
DALLAS - Reggie McKenzie takes a minute to think about it.
He doesn't know how to put it. After all, it's not easy to describe what his job as the Green Bay Packers' director of football operations entails.
"I don't know how you can term it," said McKenzie, an Austin-East High School graduate and Tennessee alum in his 17th year with the Packers. "We just do everything."
Yes, he does. He scouts college and professional games. He checks the waiver wires and conducts tryouts. He places players on injured reserve and releases them. His voice is important on draft day and at the trading deadline.
But, arguably his most important task, is coming up with contingency plans. What does the organization do if a player gets injured? Or when is the right time to cut ties with a veteran player?
"It's all about making sure we have the right players on the roster, and depth at all positions," McKenzie said.
No organization did it better than the Packers this year, either. McKenzie, along with general manager Ted Thompson and the rest of Green Bay's front office staff, assembled one of the deepest teams in the league. The Packers never faltered even though injuries seemed to strike every day.
Green Bay lost its starting running back, Ryan Grant, in the season opener. Then, in Week 4, linebacker Nick Barnett suffered a season-ending wrist injury. The following week, tight end Jermichael Finley's season came to an end with a knee injury.
In all, the Packers had to place 16 players on the injured reserve list.
"One thing is for sure in the NFL - nobody is going to feel sorry for you," McKenzie said. "Every team has players who get hurt, and you're still expected to play on Sunday. It's our job to make sure we still play at a high level. We need to provide our coaches with the best possible players that they can play with on Sunday.
"It was unfortunate with some of our top players going down with injuries. It made our jobs a little more stressful as far as replacing these players. But we were fortunate that we acquired good depth through the draft and in the offseason. It's a tribute to our personnel staff and our coaching staff, as well as the players themselves."
Acquiring those under-the-radar players who provide much-needed depth is something McKenzie and the Packers have excelled, especially with players on this year's roster.
Starting cornerback Tramon Williams, for example, was cut by the Houston Texans in 2006. The Packers gave him a chance, and he has developed into a Pro Bowl-caliber corner. He had six interceptions in the regular season, and has three in the playoffs.
"Our area scout really liked Tramon," McKenzie said. "We thought he had some skills, and wanted to get him at the very least on our practice squad. He worked his tail off, and has made a big impact on our team. It might have been a shocker to the rest of the NFL world, but we knew what he was capable of. For a lot of these players, it's just about getting a chance."
Said Williams: "They (the Packers' front office) just know talent. With all the guys they have brought in, I can't see how they didn't make it on other teams."
Along with Williams, other players the Packers have signed "off the streets" include linebacker Erik Walden, linebacker Frank Zombo, safety Charlie Peprah, nose tackle Howard Green and punter Tim Masthay.
While McKenzie and the front office get plenty of credit for finding those types of players, they also have been lucky in putting together their roster. McKenzie has no problem giving luck credit, either, rattling off players who have fallen to them.
Most notably, quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
McKenzie fondly remembers the 2005 draft.
He went into it thinking Rodgers, a standout quarterback from Cal at the time, would be a top-10 pick. But, for whatever reason, Rodgers fell out of the top 10.
After that, the Packers knew there was a chance Rodgers would fall all the way to them at pick No. 24.
"The teams ahead of us had other needs, and we had other needs, too," McKenzie said. "But we had a really high grade on him, and he was by far the best player on the board. We were ecstatic when he fell to us. There was no question on who we were going to draft."
Of course, that signaled the end was near for then-franchise quarterback Brett Favre. In the end, though, it has worked out for the Packers.
Rodgers had Green Bay in position for its first Super Bowl title since the 1996-97 season, when Favre led them to a 35-21 victory over the New England Patriots.
McKenzie sees several similarities between each team, although he said this year's team does not have a dynamic return man like Desmond Howard.
"That's the one thing we're lacking," McKenzie said. "But both teams have playmakers at quarterback, and a great defense. That team was big and strong up front defensively with Reggie White and Sean Jones. We had a playmaker at safety with LeRoy Butler. We have those things this year, too."
McKenzie also knows how important a Super Bowl season is for his future. As one of the architects of this year's team, McKenzie will be a strong candidate for any potential general manager job. He has already interviewed for three general manager positions - Houston in 2006, Tennessee in 2007 and Atlanta in 2008 - but fell short.
"My opportunity will come," the 47-year-old McKenzie said. "I'm not worried about if I ever become a GM. I would love for the right situation to come.
"Being in this organization my entire post-playing career, this is the only team I know. And I know this is the right way to do it. And, yes, going to the Super Bowl in spite of the injuries and everything, this will be a nice feather in the hat, so to speak."
Finally, before he went back to the Packers' practice, McKenzie had a parting shot, saying: "Go Vols."