GREEN BAY — Vince Biegel’s dream deferred is set to become reality Monday night.
The Wisconsin Rapids native, ex-University of Wisconsin standout and rookie Green Bay Packers linebacker was officially activated from the physically unable to perform list Friday, clearing him to make his NFL debut Monday night for his home state team against the Detroit Lions at Lambeau Field.
And he’s not even having to deal with all the ticket requests that are coming with it. His wife, Sarah, has drawn that thankless task.
“Being in Wisconsin, there's a lot of family members who have definitely been calling. My wife has already started and an Excel spread sheet for all the family members,” Biegel joked. “But luckily having those six weeks off, I was able to take care of a lot of friends and family. Thankfully, I have left ticket duty to (Sarah). For me, it's just all about having fun and playing ball.”
Playing ball is something Biegel has been waiting for since undergoing foot surgery in May after aggravating an injury during rookie orientation camp that dated back to his time at UW. The surgery forced him to miss all of the offseason program and training camp and landed him on the physically unable to perform list to start the season. Biegel began practicing before the bye week and was officially added to the 53-man roster Friday, making him eligible to play against the Lions.
Just how much he’ll play is unclear, but the Packers’ struggling pass rush – Green Bay has just 12 sacks through seven games, and only the Tennessee Titans (11) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (seven) have fewer – could certain use a boost.
“It’s nice to have him back out there working,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “Obviously, he’s a young enthusiastic guy that’s going to give you great effort. I think he’s done a good job during his PUP time, really tuned in, in the meetings, that type of thing. It will be interesting to watch him.
“We’ve only had him on the practice field for a couple of weeks, but he’s taking the right approach in the meeting room. He obviously brings some energy and enthusiasm, and we’ll have to see how that translates. This is his first shot and we’ll just have to see how it goes.”
Where Biegel might see his most playing time is on special teams, where he said coordinator Ron Zook has him working on all four units – kickoff coverage, kickoff return, punt coverage and punt return.
“I played on special teams all four years in college. Even my last year, I was on onside kickoff, I played punt, I played some reps on punt return and I had kickoff reps as well,” Biegel said. “I liked it a lot. It was kind of a mentality that Wisconsin had about special teams, which was fun. It wasn't an obligation, but it was kind of more as a duty. We had fun with it.
“Whether that's special teams, pass rush, defense, wherever they need me, I'm going to go out there and help them.”
The Packers’ year-long troubles at long-snapper continued Friday when Taybor Pepper was placed on injured reserve with a broken foot suffered in practice Thursday. To replace him, the Packers brought back Derek Hart, who was with the team throughout the offseason and in training camp before veteran Brett Goode, the team’s long-snapper since 2008 when healthy, was re-signed.
Pepper, who was cut in favor of Hart during the offseason, was brought back Sept. 25 when Goode tore his hamstring and was placed on injured reserve. He was later released with an injury settlement, which makes him eligible to re-sign with the team in a few weeks if healthy.
For now, though, the job belongs to Hart, who was working part-time back home in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, as a trainer for young athletes and on a potato farm while also working out and snapping. After an up-and-down training camp, he beat out three other candidates during a workout Friday.
“I don’t think you can really get ready. That’s why you stay ready. That’s why when you’re back home you keep training,” said Hart, who was released by the Packers on Aug. 28. “Nobody’s sitting there like, ‘I’m ready for when somebody randomly calls me.’ You stay ready. You do what you can and then you get here and just don’t think too hard. That’s how my mindset’s been.”
Zook said Pepper was injured during a blocking drill when fullback Aaron Ripkowski inadvertently stepped on his foot.
“I knew as soon as it got stepped on that something wasn’t right,” Pepper said. “Derek got signed today; we were together for a month or two this spring. He’s a good guy. I really like him. I want to see him be successful. I’ve got a winning mentality so I want to come back after this and be healthy and get my spot back.”
The Packers also placed safety Kentrell Brice (ankle) on injured reserve and promoted cornerback Donatello Brown from the practice squad. … Safety Morgan Burnett (hamstring) practiced in pads and was a full participant Friday, making him a good bet to return to the lineup Monday night after missing two games. … Four players did not practice, including tight end Martellus Bennett, who was listed with a shoulder injury. Bennett, who is considering retiring after the season, was not seen at practice while reporters were allowed to watch, in contrast with defensive tackle Quinton Dial (chest), linebacker Ahmad Brooks (back) and linebacker Joe Thomas (ankle). Tight ends coach Brian Angelichio said he has not discussed Bennett’s retirement plans with him. “Players go through stages, certainly,” Angelichio said. “But I haven’t really talked to him about that.”