"We have to pick the right 53," said Packers coach Mike McCarthy, whose team closes exhibition play Thursday against the Kansas City Chiefs, then must be down to the league-mandated 53-man roster limit by Saturday at 5 p.m. CDT. "That was my message to the team today. The focus is on personnel evaluation and making sure we're picking the right players.
The first roster reduction required by the NFL is to 80 players by Tuesday, and the Packers cut three players Sunday: Tight end Spencer Havner, wide receiver Brett Swain and rookie tackle Theo Sherman. Those moves left the team with 83 players on the roster.
With young players moving past them on the depth chart at their respective positions, both Havner and Swain weren't in the Packers' plans. That two players with more than 20 games of NFL experience each were released this early in camp speaks to the depth the Packers have at each position.
Havner, who played in 21 career games, including a start, during his three seasons in Green Bay, caught seven passes for 112 yards and four touchdowns in 2009. But the converted linebacker suffered a hamstring injury early in camp and appeared to be running sixth at his position, behind starter Jermichael Finley, second-year men Tom Crabtree and Andrew Quarless, and rookie draft picks D.J. Williams and Ryan Taylor.
Swain, a seventh-round choice by the Packers in 2008, played in 22 games with one start in two seasons in Green Bay and caught six passes for 72 yards last year. He also missed time with a hamstring injury in early in camp and was well down the depth chart as well, behind the team's top five wideouts as well as youngsters Chastin West and Tori Gurley.
Sherman signed with the Packers as a non-drafted free agent on July 28 and struggled in Friday night's 24-21 preseason win at Indianapolis.
Taylor and Gurley have put themselves in position to make the 53-man roster.
Taylor, a seventh-round pick from North Carolina, has worked on all four of the Packers' primary special teams units and has caught five passes for 54 yards in preseason games. In Friday night's 24-21 victory at Indianapolis, he caught an 11-yard, fourth-down touchdown pass from No. 3 quarterback Graham Harrell and the ensuing two-point conversion to tie the game at 21-21 with 35 seconds left.
"The seventh round is just how I got here," Taylor said Sunday. "How you got here doesn't really matter — first round or free agent. If you can play, they're going to keep you around."
Taylor played on special teams throughout his four years with the Tar Heels, even after he became an offensive starter as a senior. He has learned all the Packers' variations on the tight end position and had experience as a fullback in college.
"And I can tape ankles, too," Taylor said. "For my first three years at Carolina, that was my only way to get on the field, so I tried to be the best I could at them and I grew to really enjoy them."
Gurley has also helped himself with his special teams work, having blocked a team-high five punts in training-camp practices. But being 6-foot-4, 216 pounds has made him an intriguing prospect, despite the Packers' depth at his position.
Against the Colts, Gurley's 12-yard catch and ability to get out of bounds to stop the clock helped set up kicker Mason Crosby's game-winning 50-yard field goal as time expired.
"I thought that was the biggest play of the game for us," McCarthy said. "He's making plays on a regular basis. He's done a good job."
NOTES: Among the Packers' key players missing Sunday's practice were S Nick Collins (lower back), TE Jermichael Finley (ankle) and Nelson (bruised knee). Jones dropped out of practice with a right knee injury. ... Jennings (bruised knee) returned to practice after missing the game and last Wednesday's practice, and Cobb (bruised knees) was back on a somewhat limited basis after going down against Arizona on Aug. 19. ... Three players diagnosed with concussions in camp — DEs C.J. Wilson and Lawrence Guy and S Anthony Levine — remained sidelined. ... Taylor and rookie LB linebacker Ricky Elmore got into one of the few fights in camp during a blocking drill and had to be separated. ... Monday's practice will be the team's final workout in pads, with Tuesday's camp-ending practice set to be in shorts.