Green Bay Packers inside linebacker Quay Walker had some real highlights in his rookie season. He won a starting job in training camp and never really lost it. He led the team with 121 total tackles, recorded 1.5 sacks, broke up seven passes, forces three fumbles and recovered one fumble. He was named to the NFL’s All-Rookie Team for his efforts.
Veteran inside linebacker De’Vondre Campbell, who started opposite Walker at ILB was quickly impressed with the rookie even after OTAs. “I try to help and give as much advice as I can even though he doesn’t really need it he already a baller,” Campbell Tweeted before training camp started. “Very smart Young Man with a great future ahead of him.”
Like most rookies, Walker also had his struggles. There were moments where his speed, burst and athleticism shined through and he made some impressive plays. But there were also times when he looked unsure of where he should be on the field or how to react to a particular formation or a fake that was made on the field. In other words, Walker was a rookie.
Overall, the Packers were very pleased with his first-year performance. They even trusted him enough to allow him to call the defensive signals when Campbell missed a few games due to injury in the middle of the season.
“Rookies are going to have good days, they’re going to have bad days,” defensive coordinator Joe Barry explained when asked about Walker during the season. “They’re going to have good ebbs and flows of the game. They’re going to be up and down. That just kind of comes with the territory of being a rookie. I know one thing, he’s got a very bright future, he’s a heck of a player. I think he’s playing really good ball. Now has he had a moment here or there. But so have I.”
But there was one issue that Walker unquestionably needs to fix to take his game to the next level. The former Georgia star was ejected from two games during the season because he lost his temper.
The first came in Buffalo in Week 8 when he was sent to the locker room early for pushing a practice squad player on the sideline. The second one came in the season finale against the Lions when he was ejected for pushing an athletic trainer who came onto the field to treat an injured Detroit player.
Head coach Matt LaFleur was less than thrilled about the second ejection especially since it came in a game that the Packers had to win to make the playoffs.
“That is unacceptable,” LaFleur said. “I’ve got a much higher standard for our players than to do silly things like that. We’ve got a guy ejected twice. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that in my career. We’ve got to be much more mentally tough. Any time our guys commit personal fouls I take that very personally because I think that’s always a reflection of myself and the standards we set for these players. And we’ve got to be better and we’ve got to learn from that because that is unacceptable.”
To his credit, Walker stepped up and addressed the media both times he was ejected. He knows he made a mistake both times and took responsibility for his actions.
“Another rookie mistake,” Walker admitted. “Selfish. Just a selfish act of me. Very, just very stupid and dumb. I’ll say immature of me. Once again, made the same mistake twice. I just always seem to overreact at times and I did it again last night. That was pretty much it. I’ve got to get out of the way and let him do his job and that’s it.”
Barry was pleased with the way Walker responded. “He handled it like a man. He’s a stud of a kid,” Barry said. “Those guys play a very violent, physical, emotional game, and the things that take place down in and down out that they have to do, tensions are high and emotions are high. That’s not an excuse, by any means. You’ve got to play within the rules of the game. Before I had a chance to even go see him in his locker, he was in tears and apologizing to me.”
The key going forward is to not lose his temper at all and to be in control before he takes a penalty and is ejected from the game. If he can do that, Walker should have a very bright future with the Packers starting with his second NFL campaign in 2023.
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