Excitement as Kickoff Approaches

Coach Mike McCarthy, defensive coordinator Dom Capers and cornerback Charles Woodson discuss what they're feeling leading up to Thursday's season-opening showdown. Plus, injury reports, news from New Orleans and more from a busy Tuesday.

With the football world waiting in breathless anticipation for the 2011 NFL season to kick off with a showdown pitting the last two Super Bowl champions, Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy and cornerback Charles Woodson are among those feeling the excitement with Thursday night approaching.

"I've kind of grown past the nervous stage. But I do get excited," McCarthy, the Packers' sixth-year coach, said after Tuesday's practice, the final one before the game. "I think anytime you walk out on Lambeau Field and you don't have a unique energy in your stomach, it's probably time for me to go home. I'll be ready to go Thursday. I'm really looking forward to competing, like I do every week in this league. Especially at home. It's going to be a great night for our fans. But it's our first regular-season game, against a good opponent, and we're ready to go and we're looking forward to playing."

Woodson will be playing in his 14th season-opening game but never as the defending champion.

"If I don't get excited, I need to find another occupation, I'll tell you that," Woodson said. "This is one of the more exciting games of the season, being that it's the first game, a Thursday night game, a lot of hoopla surrounding it, concerts going on. So, there will be a lot of people in attendance, and we all get up for this game. Am I excited? Absolutely. And I can't wait to go."

If there's any nervousness, it's the fear of the unknown. McCarthy estimates that between 20 percent and a 30 percent of the plays seen in Week 1 are "unscouted looks" — things a team never has put on film or plays the team hasn't run in a specific situation.

"The first game, you always have some apprehension because you know you're going to see more things that maybe you haven't seen before or you don't know how they're going to come together," said defensive coordinator Dom Capers ahead of his 26th NFL season. "I think you have to go back to last year, but the Saints are going to be a different team than last year, just like we're going to be a different defense than we were last year. You try to prepare for these games as much as you can, and then you get into them, and there's certain things you just have to react on instinct."

Short-handed at outside linebacker

Undrafted outside linebacker Vic So'oto, who was perhaps the biggest surprise of training camp, aggravated a sore back while in the weight room and has been ruled out of Thursday's game.

"I have a tendency to push myself in the weight room and I guess it's counterproductive," he said.

With So'oto and Zombo out, another undrafted rookie, Jamari Lattimore, figures to join Brad Jones as the backups to starters Clay Matthews and Erik Walden.

"I think Erik's done a good job, particularly on defense," McCarthy said. "I think Brad's done a good job on both defense and special teams. Brad's done a number of things both base and sub defense, so very versatile. I think Erik has finally had an opportunity to go through training camp with us and is understanding the defense a lot better than he did last year."

New deal for Payton

As the Saints were getting ready to hit the practice field on Monday to continue their prep for the Packers, team officials announced that sixth-year coach Sean Payton had agreed to a contract extension that will keep him with the club through the 2015 season.

The agreement came less than a week after quarterback Drew Brees, who is entering the final season of a six-year, $60 million contract, told reporters that he and the team have had ongoing talks about extending his current deal.

Payton's regular-season record is 49-31, with a Super Bowl title, a second trip to the NFC title game and two NFC South crowns.

Packers injury report

Out — CB Davon House (ankle); OLB Vic So'oto (back); OLB Frank Zombo (shoulder). Did not participate: LT Chad Clifton (knee). Limited — TE Jermichael Finley (ankle); DE Mike Neal (knee). Full — TE Ryan Taylor (hip).

Don't be alarmed by Clifton's absence. At least initially, McCarthy is following the same plan as last year by giving the veteran tackle the day off on "Friday" — in this case, Tuesday.

Neal, meanwhile, will be a game-time decision. He took all of his allotted reps, according to Capers.

"I feel good," Neal said. "I can't complain about the progress that I've made. With the 55 hours that we have before the game, I think we can judge coming into pregame how I feel."

Saints injury report

Did not participate — K Garrett Hartley (hip); WR Lance Moore (groin). Limited — WR Adrian Arrington (knee); DT Tom Johnson (calf).

John Kasay, who will turn 42 in a couple months, will do the kicking for the Saints. "I am not as young as I used to be," he said. "I'm not fooling anybody with that, but there have been a handful of guys who have done very well playing into their 40s. Morten Andersen, John Carney, Gary Anderson, Matt Stover, Jason Hanson. It's a privilege to be able to play and to do the same thing I was doing as a kid."

Four-point stance

— McCarthy called the team "sharp" in its last practice. "We only had a couple plays that we needed to correct, so we'll see what the film looks like. But the energy's been good, it's been a good week of preparation. The first week always presents challenges coming off of training camp, getting ready for your first game. Personally, I like the fact that this game is right there ready to go. You don't have a 10-day period from your last preseason game to the first game. So, we're ready to go."

— Bart Starr will lead the Packers out of the tunnel to start the game, 2007 "American Idol" winner Jordin Sparks will sing the national anthem, four F16s from the 115th Fighter Wing of the Wisconsin Air National Guard based in Madison will do the flyover, and there will be a brief fireworks display.

— Posted on a door outside the locker room: "Do your duty. We hard. Be accountable. Put the team first. Hunting Super Bowl XLVI."

— In the latest odds provided by Bodog.com, the Packers are 7-to-1 favorites to win the Super Bowl. That's the same as last month. Green Bay remains the No. 2 choice, behind New England, which is 11-to-2 after being 13-to-2 last month. Philadelphia (15-2), San Diego (11-1), New Orleans (12-1) and the New York Jets (12-2) round out the top six.

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport.

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