Like any rookie, Packers third-round pick Jace Sternberger is adjusting to life in the NFL. But the talented tight end out of Texas A&M has set high expectations for himself and is determined to break free of the limitations some scouts have placed on his skill set.
So far, OTAs have mostly been a learning experience for Sternberger. “It’s been a lot, a lot of information but the vets have been really good at bringing me in and showing me the way, so I’ve just been enjoying this process,” he told reporters after practice recently.
Part of the process for the Kingfisher, Oklahoma, native is adjusting to playing alongside the players he grew up watching on TV.
“It’s everything a kid who wants to play in the NFL can dream of,” Sternberger explained when asked about playing with veterans like Aaron Rodgers, Jimmy Graham and Marcedes Lewis. “You have a Hall of Fame quarterback and two established veterans. Everyone in this locker room is here for a reason. They’re all doing things that you’re trying to do. Just getting to be a part of it is a blessing.”
Sternberger admits that getting to know teammates like Graham takes a little time and he is trying to learn as much as he can from the veteran starter. “I’ve probably only known him for about a month so it’s nothing too crazy,” Sternberger said of Graham. “He’s played a long time so I just I ask a lot of questions and I listen to everything he says. He’s played a long time and that’s something I strive to do, so he has a lot of good information to give and I try to steal away any little tidbits I can from him.”
The one skill nobody doubts Sternberger possesses is his receiving ability and it’s clear that the rookie is confident in that. “That’s the reason why I’m here,” he said. “From a very young age I’ve always just been running with the football so it’s one of those things I really enjoy doing.”
Sternberger caught 48 passes for 832 yards and 10 touchdowns last season at Texas A&M. That is an impressive 17.3-yard average. His outstanding receiving ability made him a consensus All-American and made for some impressive highlight reels.
But the reason Sternberger fell to the third round of the draft was his lack of bona fides as a blocker, something that is important in head coach Matt LaFleur’s offense. Still, Sternberger is eager to prove his critics wrong when they say he cannot block well.
“I never shy away from anything really competition wise,” Sternberger said. “Blocking is one of those things I just never really had to do. Now I’m getting experienced doing a couple of years in college. I am still very raw at it but it’s one of those things, like anything, I don’t want to be labeled as just a receiving tight end so I really have a chip on my shoulder to prove that I can block.”
Tight end is a tough position for NFL rookies to adjust to and it is rare that players make significant contributions at that position in their first year in the league. Gradually, Sternberger sees himself learning the team’s offensive system.
“Now that we’re in week three or week four of OTAs, you’re just trying to learn your information, now you’re trying to do your best so you can contribute and you’re playing with those guys [the veterans] on a consistent basis,” he said.
Sternberger was very pleased with the way the offense works and feels the entire team will improve once they learn the intricacies of LaFleur’s system. “This offense is really beneficial for everybody, not just the tight ends,” he said. “There’s new ways for everybody to get open…I feel like this offense is going to beneficial for the whole Packers organization.”
Now the rookie faces the challenge of making the team and making his mark at the next level. And proving his critics wrong once he steps on the football field.