GREEN BAY — No member of the Green Bay Packers’ 11-man draft class exhibited more so-happy-to-be-here joie de vivre at last weekend’s rookie orientation camp than defensive end James Looney.
The seventh-round pick from California even burst into song at one point in his chat with reporters, for goodness’ sake.
And while he did his best to be serious and focused during the two practices the rookies had inside the Don Hutson Center — on the advice of his older brother, Joe, an offensive lineman for the Dallas Cowboys who has played 59 career regular-season NFL games with three teams — Looney certainly wasn’t about to change who he is and not soak in his first official moments as a professional football player.
“I’m a pretty playful guy. I tried to limit it (during the rookie camp) and I’ll for sure limit it in the future — just to make sure I get everything down right,” Looney said. “But it’s football, man! You dream about this as a kid, man! Growing up, you dream about wearing a logo like the Packers'. Just to be here and have this shirt on and have these clothes on, I just can’t do nothing but smile. I’m just happy to be here.”
At one point in the discussion, Looney was asked if he’d ever been mistaken on the Berkeley campus for Counting Crows lead singer (and fellow Cal alum) Adam Duritz. No, he said, but he does have another doppelgänger — albeit an animated one — who can carry a tune.
“Maui. Sometimes I get Maui,” Looney said with a laugh, referring to the Disney character voiced by Dwyane “The Rock” Johnson. “I’ve got some tattoos, and when I’m around kids … my girlfriend loves to go into the Disney Store and stuff so they call me Maui, from Moana. That’s probably the most I get.”
While the Packers don’t need Looney to be a demigod, they’d like to see him add depth to their defensive front. Looney’s athleticism and versatility — he played across Cal’s defensive line and worked in both 3-4 and 4-3 fronts in college, an amorphous approach new Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine also employs — appealed to the Packers in the final round, and his productivity (130 tackles, including 20.5 tackles for loss and eight sacks, with four fumble recoveries) stood out as well.
“If you can find quality role players or starters on Day 3, I think that’s where you create an advantage over other teams in this league,” general manager Brian Gutekunst said. “Those are the hard things to do but I think scouts have always felt, the further you get down the board, they’re the ones that know those players better than anyone.”
Looney, meanwhile, had an advantage over some of his fellow rookies not only because his older brother had been through the transition from college to the pros, but because he had a pair of Cal connections — tight end Richard Rodgers, who left the Packers as a free agent this offseason, and wide receiver Trevor Davis, who played with Looney — to give him the lay of the land before he arrived. Both players texted Looney with encouragement, advice and insight after he was drafted.
“They told me I would love it here,” Looney said. “They told me it’s a great staff, great coaches, great process — they teach you how to be a professional. I’m just so excited to be here, man. I’m blessed. I just thank God. Being a Cal Bear, we all take a lot of pride in that. We’ve got one of the greatest Cal Bears ever in Aaron Rodgers, so I’ve just got to learn from him and continue to work.”
Although Looney didn’t meet the two-time NFL MVP during his first weekend in Green Bay — the star quarterback and a handful of teammates were en route to the Kentucky Derby when the rookies arrived — he’ll see Rodgers soon enough, when organized team activity practices kick off. Rookies are eligible to return to Lambeau Field on Monday after having this week off.
And as proud as he is of his singing voice — “Pretty good, right?” Looney said after his rendition, “I still got it” — he probably won’t croon to Rodgers and the veterans next week. Rather, he’ll show them what he believes to be his best trait – his effort level.
“I think you have to be relentless in your pursuit of the ball,” Looney said. “When you get the reps, you have to take advantage of every opportunity you have and just go all-out.
“I’m just ready to learn and ready to get better. That’s the best thing I can bring to the team. I mean, to be around this organization, Green Bay has such a great history behind it. My dad went nuts when I got drafted by Green Bay. I just am loving every second of it.”