GREEN BAY – Sarah Biegel’s Excel spreadsheet just got a lot longer.
On Friday afternoon, amid a flurry of roster moves, the Green Bay Packers officially activated Vince Biegel from the reserve/physically unable to perform list, clearing the way for the rookie linebacker and former Wisconsin Badgers star to make his NFL debut for the team he loved growing up.
And that means his wife Sarah, who was already in charge of handling ticket requests from a growing list of friends and family, might have to add a few (or a few dozen) more rows to her table. Now that the humble, hardworking kid who grew up on a cranberry farm in Wisconsin Rapids is expected to step foot onto Lambeau Field and actually play professionally against the Detroit Lions on Monday Night Football this week, well, he says, "there’s a lot of family members who have definitely been calling."
It's long overdue for Biegel, the first pick in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft (No. 108 overall) who was sidelined the first two months of the season as he worked back from offseason foot surgery. Until Oct. 18, when he finally started practicing just before Green Bay’s bye week, Biegel hadn’t even been on the field since the Packers’ rookie orientation camp in May.
That wasn’t the start Biegel – who, after being drafted, said it was his dream to play for the Packers and tweeted a childhood picture of himself wearing the green and gold and a cheesehead – had envisioned, being forced to wait five months and missing Green Bay’s entire offseason program, training camp and first seven games.
But, over the last couple of weeks, he’s been saying all the right things in the locker room, and apparently doing them on the practice field too, and now it seems the former Wisconsin standout will finally get a chance to show why he was the first Badgers defensive player drafted by the Packers since 1991.
"The best thing I can do is go out there, show I’m in game shape and make some plays out there and continue to get better every single day," Biegel said. "I’m excited for the opportunities that come down the road here."
He said that on Thursday, when he met with a large media contingent at his locker, and he wasn’t talking about making plays in the game against the Lions on Monday night. Biegel, who said "that’s not my call" when asked about the possibility of being activated and added that his preparation wouldn’t change regardless, was talking about participating in just his second NFL padded practice on Friday. Of course, later that day, he was added to the 53-man roster, as the Packers placed safety Kentrell Brice (ankle) and long snapper Taybor Pepper (foot) on injured reserve.
"One of the biggest things for me is practicing hard. I was a big practicer at Wisconsin, and you practice how you play," Biegel said, adding that until recently it was mostly just knocking off rust. "Being a pass rusher, I haven’t done anything in five, six months, so to be able to get back out there, start working my hands again, start working with (coaches), it’s been awesome. The confidence has been building."
And what about the confidence in his surgically repaired right foot, which underwent two operations in the past year?
"The confidence in the foot is 100 percent," he said. "The foot feels fantastic; the training staff in Green Bay did a tremendous job getting me to where I’m at. For me, it’s full-speed ahead, all football focus."
Despite needing that pair of procedures to fix a Jones fracture in the outside of his foot, Biegel is a tough, throwback-type linebacker and far from being considered injury-prone. He matched the Wisconsin record by playing in 54 games over four years, including 40 starts, and ranked seventh all-time in program history with 21.5 sacks and 10th with 39.5 tackles for loss.
Biegel has the size (6-foot-3, 246 pounds), speed (4.67 seconds in the 40-yard dash) and schematic experience – the Badgers and Packers both play a 3-4 base defense – to impact Green Bay’s stagnant pass rush. But in the near term, his first opportunities in a game will almost surely come on special teams, rather than from scrimmage.
And that’s just fine for Biegel, who said he’s very familiar with special teams and has been working on each of the units with Green Bay.
"I played special teams all four years of college – even my senior year, I was on onside kickoff, I played punt, I played some reps on punt return and I had kickoff reps," he said Thursday. "It was kind of a mentality Wisconsin had about special teams, which was fun. It wasn’t an obligation; it was a duty, and we had fun with it. I did punt (coverage) all four years in college.
"I’m hoping to help out any way I can. Whether it’s special teams, pass-rush, defense, whatever they need from me, I’m going to go out there and help out."
On Thursday, head coach Mike McCarthy said, "Vince looks good. He’s obviously excited about being out there." The much-anticipated debut of the in-state kid – whose passion, relentlessness and distinctive hairstyle (a mullet with a 'W' shaved into it) made him a highly popular Badgers player – provides a little shot in the arm for the subdued Packers, who have lost their last two games after Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone on Oct. 15.
And while Brett Hundley and the offense certainly have struggled, Dom Capers’ defense hasn’t exactly picked up the slack. The Packers have recorded two sacks in the past three games and they have just 12 on the season, tied for third-fewest in the league. Perhaps sooner than later, Green Bay’s defense will need a boost from Biegel, who was attentive in meetings and kept a positive attitude during his time on the PUP list.
"He’s looking good and getting back into football shape after being off for so long," said fellow linebacker Clay Matthews, who has registered only 2.5 sacks so far. "I know you guys are looking forward to what he can do, but us, as well – having a kid who’s hungry to come in here and prove himself, and hopefully show something too in the meantime."
And on a veteran-laden, often injury-plagued defense that now has to be the reason Green Bay wins games, rather than just along for Rodgers’ ride, Biegel’s well-rested freshness and vigor could help a lot.
"I think my biggest asset is I’m bringing energy to the Packers," Biegel said.
With linebacker Ahmad Brooks still out with a back injury, and facing the Lions’ poor pass protection – Detroit has allowed 25 sacks, tied for sixth-most in the NFL, and is dealing with multiple injuries on the offensive line – Biegel could have a huge opportunity Monday night, not only to run out of the tunnel at Lambeau Field, but also to make a big play for the Green Bay Packers.
Perhaps, but he’s not letting himself daydream about it.
"Obviously, it’s going to be a special moment, but for me it’s all focus this week," Biegel said. "The preparation, the practice, that’s where my focus and my energy is at. It’s not the moment of Monday Night Football, it’s preparing for practice, it’s putting myself in a good position, getting my body right and my mind right."
For the football-loving Badger from Wisconsin Rapids living out his childhood dream, the game is easy. He left the hard part, filling in spreadsheet cells and saying no to old Madison buddies, to Sarah.
"Luckily, having those six weeks off, I was able to take care of a lot of friends and family, and thankfully I left ticket duties to my wife," Biegel said. "For me it’s all about just having fun and playing ball."
Born in Milwaukee but a product of Shorewood High School (go ‘Hounds!) and Northwestern University (go ‘Cats!), Jimmy never knew the schoolboy bliss of cheering for a winning football, basketball or baseball team. So he ditched being a fan in order to cover sports professionally - occasionally objectively, always passionately. He's lived in Chicago, New York and Dallas, but now resides again in his beloved Brew City and is an ardent attacker of the notorious Milwaukee Inferiority Complex.
After interning at print publications like Birds and Blooms (official motto: "America's #1 backyard birding and gardening magazine!"), Sports Illustrated (unofficial motto: "Subscribe and save up to 90% off the cover price!") and The Dallas Morning News (a newspaper!), Jimmy worked for web outlets like CBSSports.com, where he was a Packers beat reporter, and FOX Sports Wisconsin, where he managed digital content. He's a proponent and frequent user of em dashes, parenthetical asides, descriptive appositives and, really, anything that makes his sentences longer and more needlessly complex.
Jimmy appreciates references to late '90s Brewers and Bucks players and is the curator of the unofficial John Jaha Hall of Fame. He also enjoys running, biking and soccer, but isn't too annoying about them. He writes about sports - both mainstream and unconventional - and non-sports, including history, music, food, art and even golf (just kidding!), and welcomes reader suggestions for off-the-beaten-path story ideas.