Monday, May 08, 2006

Happy Campers

It was a good Packers minicamp, according to press reports. Happy coaches. Happy GM. Happy players...well, except maybe for Mark Roman who seems to now want to pull a Javon "The Whiner" Walker move and demand to be traded, although there are conflicting stories about that too.

But let's concentrate on the positive. Second-year QB Aaron Rodgers got most of the reps with the first offensive unit and coaches extolled his reads, his arm strength, his movement, his huddle management, etc. Sounds as if he made a good first impression on his new coaches. No mistake, Favre is #1, but sounds as if coaches may be a bit more comfortable with Mr. Rodgers as he settles in as the heir-apparent.

RB Samkon Gado, who came from literally nowhere last year to become a running phenomenon and fan favorite before an injury sidelined him, got a lot of work with the offense as Ahman Green and Najeeh Davenport continue to rehab from their injuries. In a lockerroom interview, Gado said he knows that as soon as Green returns he is the #1 back, but that he is also going to do everything he can to be ready for however the Packers want to use him. Given the Packers new zone blocking scheme, where there is an emphasis on basically making one cut at the line and no more until you hit the open field, Gado could be even more dangerous than he was last year if given the opportunity.

The receiving corps looks to be shaping up more so than some might have expected. Donald Driver and Robert Ferguson are the top two receivers, with Rod Gardner and free agent Marc Boerigter working with the second unit. It was clear, though, that coaches are very impressed with second-round pick Greg Jennings, and that he has a legitimate chance to be the #3 receiver. Other receivers also making impressions were fourth-round pick Cory Rodgers and Leo Bookman, a three-time NCAA 200-meter champion who hasn't played football since 2002 at Kansas. According to Thompson, "He's still learning the game but he's a nice-size kid, looks like he catches the ball pretty good and can run like the wind." In other words, perhaps a practice squad player or a designee for NFL Europe next year...or maybe a contributor this year depending upon how quickly he develops. Anytime you have a 6'2" 213 pound receiver who can run 4.2 gotta hope he can run routes and catch the ball.

The starting offensive line, at least this minicamp, consisted of Will Whitticker at left tackle (only because Chad Clifton sat out with a knee problem and Adrian Klemm suffered a knee injury in the first 45 minutes of Friday's practice), second-round pick Daryn Colledge at left guard, Scott Wells at center, Junius Coston at right guard and Mark Tauscher at right tackle. The Pack also seems to be more happy with their depth on the O-line than in the last few years. Offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski believes this unit will do just fine with the new zone blocking scheme. As quoted in the online Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Jagodzinski said, "Here's the deal. If there's a guy on him, he's blocking him. If no one's on him, he's going to the linebacker. It's not that hard. It's hard to screw that up." OK then...moving on...

Defensive line had Ryan Pickett, Cullen Jenkins, Corey Williams and Colin Cole rotating at tackle with the No. 1 unit. It's likely that different players will rotate in the starting unit depending upon the opponent.

Linebackers...ah linebackers. An area of mediocrity for more than a few years might fast become the strength of the defense...although an argument could be made that the new defensive backfield could lay claim to that. Starting at weak side LB was A. J. Hawk, who did nothing over the weekend to make coaches question spending the #5 overall pick on him. Veteran Nick Barnett played in the middle with free agent pick up Ben Taylor playing the strong side. Rookie Abdul Hodge backed up Barnett in the middle. The "Voice of the Packers," Wayne Larivee, said on this morning's sports report on WTMJ620 radio that it wouldn't surprise him if, maybe not this year but perhaps next, Barnett would be moved to strong side linebacker and Abdul Hodge could be the man in the middle, with Hawk on the weak side. Larivee said the Packers now have a very good but young linebacking corps. How long has it been since the word "good" let alone "very good" was used to describe the Pack's linebackers? Nice to hear. Will be better to see.

As for the secondary, free agent Charles Woodson replaced Ahmad Carroll across from Al Harris. 'Nough said.

The punting's between ex-Canadian footballer Jon Ryan and B. J. Sander. Each apparently has their weaknesses. Sander's we pretty well know about. Ryan has a booming leg, but apparently needs to work on reducing his catch-to-drop time, as well as working on holding for the field goal kicker...who is...oh yeah, Billy Cundiff (for now). Should be an interesting competition there.

As for returners, Charles Woodson fielded punts along with rookies Greg Jennings, Cory Rodgers and Will Blackmon. Coach McCarthy is very excited about the possibility of Woodson returning punts. Easy to understand. On the other hand, I'm always nervous about putting one of your new and high priced free agents into a position -- i.e., returning punts -- where freaky accidents can and do happen. You got him to play CB and perhaps some offense. Special teams? Yeah, the team could use some help there...but at what possible price?

All in all, a great camp. More greatness ahead! If you want to read a more detailed account of all this, go here.