GREEN BAY – Ha Ha Clinton-Dix was more than happy to deliver a scouting report, biased though it might have been.
The Green Bay Packers’ first-round draft pick had just finished his first practice as a pro and spent his entire chat with reporters answering questions about himself – how he’ll impact the Packers’ defense, whether he’ll finally fix the troublesome safety position, what draft night was like for him – when the conversation veered to outside linebacker Adrian Hubbard, his college teammate at Alabama and one of 17 undrafted rookie free agents now on the team’s roster.
The ringing endorsement was immediate.
“They definitely got a steal in that guy,” Clinton-Dix said. “He plays fast and he’s a very smart guy. He knows the defense probably already here coming out of the system we came out of. He’s ahead of a lot of people, so I think they got a steal. He’s going to work hard and do whatever it takes.”
That Clinton-Dix vouched for his old – and new – teammate was significant, especially since the 32 teams in the NFL didn’t think enough of him to draft him, and other scouting reports weren’t quite so glowing. (Bizarrely, Hubbard refused to reciprocate when asked about Clinton-Dix, replying, “That’s a question for Coach Saban,” referring to the Crimson Tide head coach.)
The 6-foot-6, 257-pound Hubbard decided to forgo his senior year at Alabama after being told by the NFL’s draft advisory committee told him he’d be a second- to fourth-round pick. Instead, he was one of the 36 underclassmen – out of the 98 that declared – to go undrafted.
“I accomplished everything I wanted in college and just felt like this was the right time for me to take the next step,” said Hubbard, who won two BCS titles at Alabama and got his degree in business finance. “I was [going to be] motivated, whether I got drafted in the first [round], it didn’t matter. I still had to come here and compete for a job.”
Given the Packers’ track record with undrafted free agents – especially at outside linebacker – he came to the right place to compete.
Last year, three undrafted rookie free agents (safety Chris Banjo, outside linebacker Andy Mulumba and guard Lane Taylor) made the roster coming out of camp, and two more (tight end Jake Stoneburner and wide receiver Myles White) were promoted to the 53-man roster after the season began.
In 2012, outside linebacker Dezman Moses, safety Sean Richardson and right tackle Don Barclay were kept at the final cutdown, as was wide receiver Jarrett Boykin, who initially signed with Jacksonville after going undrafted, then was cut by the Jaguars, came to the Packers’ rookie camp on a tryout basis and then was signed after the camp. Later in the season, center/guard Greg Van Roten, who was cut on the final roster reduction, was called up from the practice squad.
In 2011; safety M.D. Jennings, inside linebacker Jamari Lattimore and outside linebacker Vic So’oto survived the final cuts to make the team coming out of camp.
In 2010, outside linebacker Frank Zombo, cornerback Sam Shields and offensive lineman Nick McDonald were the keepers to start the season.
Other notable undrafted rookies to survive the final roster reduction were offensive lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith of Idaho State in 2009; running back Kregg Lumpkin of Georgia in 2008; defensive tackle Daniel Muir from Kent State in 2007; and linebacker Roy Manning of Michigan and offensive lineman Chris White of Southern Mississippi in 2005.
Hubbard said he was aware that Zombo, So’oto, Moses and Mulumba had each made the 53-man roster as undrafted outside linebackers, but that it played only a small role in his decision to sign with the Packers after fielding several other offers.
Whether Hubbard can make it five straight years of an undrafted rookie outside linebacker contributing to the Packers’ 3-4 defense is up to him, he said.
“At the end of the day I still have to come here to compete,” Hubbard said. “Statistics are what you make it.”
Hubbard was one of 14 undrafted players who signed with the Packers following the draft, along with Utah State inside linebacker Jake Doughty; Toledo outside linebacker Jay Elliott; Washington State tackle John Fullington; North Carolina State defensive end Carlos Gray; Central Florida guard Jordan McCray; Iowa safety Tanner Miller; Tennessee running back Rajion Neal; Colorado State-Pueblo defensive tackle Mike Pennel; Maine tight end Justin Perillo; Mississippi State running back LaDarius Perkins; Boston College quarterback Chase Rettig; South Carolina State linebacker Joe Thomas; and Auburn cornerback Ryan White.
After the rookie camp, the Packers signed three more undrafted free agents who took part as tryout players: Ex-Oregon tight end Colt Lyerla, Hawaii cornerback Charles Clay and Miami (Fla.) defensive end Luther Robinson.
Hubbard believes he’s in that group primarily because of a minor heart abnormality that doctors discovered at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis in February. But there were also questions about his production (33 tackles and three sacks last season after 51 tackles and seven sacks in 2012), quickness, pass-rush moves and attitude. Hubbard said in an interview after the first rookie-camp practice that Atlanta-based physician Charles Brown cleared him – Brown has served as the Atlanta Falcons’ cardiologist since 1992 – and the Packers wouldn’t have signed him if he didn’t pass their medical staff’s physical. Another Packers’ team doctor Patrick McKenzie obviously agreed, clearing Hubbard upon arrival in Green Bay.
But the Packers like his potential and his length, something coach Mike McCarthy has emphasized in the outside linebacker “body type,” as he calls it. At 6-6, Hubbard is tied as the second-tallest player on the roster – veteran defensive end/outside linebacker Julius Peppers is listed at 6-7 – and his 34 1/2-inch arm length and 81 3/4 wingspan were among the longest of the defensive players measured at the Combine.
“Length and athleticism doesn’t go too far if you don’t have any technique,” Hubbard said. “So you have to have all that and then you can use the length.”
Now, though, it’s up to Hubbard to use everything he has to prove he belongs. He’ll have a more difficult road than some of the previous undrafted outside linebackers – the Packers added Peppers, fourth-round pick Carl Bradford and the undrafted Elliott to a mix that includes two former first-round picks (Clay Matthews, Nick Perry) and two rookies who saw action last year (Mulumba, Nate Palmer) – but believes he’s up to the task.
“As long as I'm in the building, I'm good,” Hubbard said as he sat in the auxiliary locker room at Lambeau Field, surrounded by other roster longshots. “It’s a unique situation for myself to come out here and have opportunity to compete.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today,” and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.