Driver Sets Example

Despite decreased playing time this season, wide receiver Donald Driver might be as valuable to the Packers as ever. Our Matt Tevsh says other top players on the team can learn from the perspective he offered this week.

Donald Driver made his biggest play of the season this week — not with one of his kick-stand juke moves — but rather with his mouth in the locker room.

No, he did not demand that more passes be thrown his way.

No, he did not demand that he get more playing time.

And no, he did not express any frustration, including with his body language.

Instead, he flashed his trademark smile and spoke as though he was a rookie again.

When asked by reporters about his snaps being down as well as the number of balls thrown his way this season, this is how he responded:

"I'm fine with it," the 13-year veteran wide receiver said. "I think you got to get to a point where you can't worry about how many balls you get, because you start worrying about how many balls you get, that's when you get to the point where you start losing games. Then you put the pressure on Aaron (Rodgers) to try to make sure everyone stays happy. One ball, eight balls, whatever, it's just like everyone else is catching balls, and that's how excited we are among our receiving group. We love each other and it's fun."

"For me, I'm having fun. If I catch one ball, that one ball is big. That's the main focus. When it's all said and done after the game, if you get that ‘W,' then you should be happy."

His response was 38 seconds long, but its meaning could resonate the rest of the season for those around him who hear it, take it in, and live it. Because for this Packers team, as talented as it is, only self-implosion can derail the train.

Perhaps that is why coach Mike McCarthy on Wednesday changed his tone when speaking about dividing up playing time for his pass receivers, including Driver, who has just nine catches for 76 yards through the first five games, which puts him on pace for his least productive season since 2001.

But as much as McCarthy indicated he wanted to put an end to any more questions from the media about ball distribution among his receivers, Driver's words, albeit in a different tone, should set a stronger example for his teammates.

James Jones' frustration about playing time after Week 1, expressed to the media, was certainly a surprise given the wide receiver's history of being a good teammate. But his body language during a huge season-opening with over the Saints and sprint to the tunnel immediately following the game sends a different signal.

Jermichael Finley's call to get the ball as one of the team's top playmakers — despite being double-teamed — after a 49-23 victory over the Broncos may not have been a surprise considering the tight end's history of being outspoken. But his three critical dropped passes the following week at Atlanta makes him look bad and potential divisive to his teammates.

Even Clay Matthews, on the defensive side of the ball, is not exempt. Two weeks ago, after just missing a sack on Kyle Orton, he hung his head and walked slowly all the way to the sideline, choosing not to celebrate with Desmond Bishop, who cleaned up the quarterback takedown. Matthews' reaction was an unusual one considering his team had just made a big play.

Winning has a way of covering up any potential problems. The 5-0 Packers are the best team in the NFL and have built a roster, by design, of "good guys."

But on an individual basis, being a true pro in every sense of the word can be tough. It can be a process. In an ego-centric environment with millions to be made, young players can lose track of what is really important and what will carry them to fruitful careers. Things like patience, understanding, and character count, even if they fail to register in immediate statistics and dollars.

Driver has been through the process. He understands that talent fully realized and appreciated means matching ability with actions in every situation.

He could have let an injury against the Broncos two weeks ago sideline him. In fact, the doctors told him that his knee injury, suffered late in the second quarter, was going to keep him out for the remainder of the game.

But Driver did not listen. He came back in the second half when there was really no reason to. For one, the Packers were pulling away to a wide margin of victory. And two, they had plenty of depth at one of their most talented positions on the team to get by.

Still, he wanted to contribute. He scored a touchdown, albeit a meaningless one, late in the game. He made the most of his opportunity when it came his way. His teammates celebrated with him like it was the first touchdown of his career.

For a guy who remains as fit and arguably as able as ever at 36 years old, Driver is not about to let diminished playing time and decreased production ruin the ride. He is as upbeat and as good a teammate as ever. His comments are evidence of that.


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Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at matttevsh@hotmail.com


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