Learning Curve

Luxury or curse? When Jamal Reynolds and Robert Ferguson were drafted with the 10th and 41st overall picks of the NFL draft in April, many observers felt that the two would be making immediate contributions for the Green Bay Packers this season.

That obviously hasn't been the case. Coach Mike Sherman says that more established players ahead of the two is the main reason why neither of them have suited up through nine games this season. Plus, the players in front of each of the two have managed to stay healthy.

Because of the emergence of defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, the Packers have had the luxury of developing Reynolds, who struggled in training camp and then suffered an injury. Gbaja-Biamila entered Green Bay's game Sunday against Atlanta second in the league with 10 quarterback sacks.

Ferguson has been buried on the depth chart as the No. 6 receiver behind starters Antonio Freeman and Bill Schroeder, and backups Corey Bradford, Charles Lee and Donald Driver. Because of the ineffectiveness of Bradford, Lee and Driver, Ferguson may be on the verge of playing, but he also has had trouble grasping the Packers' complex offense. That's a big reason why he has been watching the games in street clothes.

Despite no contributions from Reynolds and Ferguson, the Packers have been getting help from three of their final four draft picks. Third-round pick Bhawoh Jue, has been used extensively in the team's dime defense since Antuan Edwards was lost for the season with a knee injury on Sept. 30. Linebacker Torrance Marshall also has seen action on special teams and as a backup middle linebacker.

Tight end David Martin, a sixth round pick, has played the most of any of the draft picks as the backup to starter Bubba Franks. Guard Bill Ferrario, taken in the fourth round, has not suited up for a game.

Here's a progress update for each of the Packers' 2001 draft picks:

Reynolds: The defensive end, taken by the Packers with the 10th overall pick, says he knows the system. The coaches say he's ready to go, but probably won't play unless starter John Thierry or Gbaja-Biamila is injured.

Reynolds injured his groin midway through training camp and sat out of the team's final three preseason games. That set him back considerably as far as getting reps in exhibition games.

"Being out is going to set you back regardless," Reynolds said. "But it's a good time to learn the playbook and get the system down."

Defensive line coach Jethro Franklin says Reynolds is learning a lot and "jumping hurdles that he has to jump in his first year in this league."

Reynolds has had some reps with the first team defense, but only when Thierry or Gbaja-Biamila have been too sore to practice. Reynolds has been practicing on various special teams units and also on the scout team against the No. 1 offense.

In the meantime, Reynolds has kept his chin high and has often stayed after practice to sharpen his skills under the guidance of Franklin.

"There are certain things that I've tried to make him more aware of, or at least be more aware of his body," Franklin explained. "Making his mind know exactly what his body is doing. Is he taking his third step on his outside foot? Making his move on his third step? Coordinating his feet with his hands, being more knowledgeable in terms of how offenses try to attack the edge by personnel groupings and by formations. Just working on his all-around game. From his playing techniques to a knowledge of what plays (an offense) try to use to attack him."

Reynolds is chomping at the bit to play. He has never in his career had to watch the team that he was on play standing on the sidelines in street clothes.

"It is kind of hard," Reynolds said. "I just do what I can to support the team in the chances that I get."

Reynolds said he hasn't gotten any indication lately on if he will play anytime soon. Sherman has indicated that he would like to get Reynolds on the field, but that has yet to happen.

Reynolds says he is back to normal physically. Now he is trying to deal with the mental anguish of not playing. Franklin, however, says Reynolds' attitude is "great."

"Obviously he's frustrated because he's not playing," Franklin said. "If he wasn't I'd be a little concerned about him over that."

Ferguson: Like Reynolds, Sherman said wide receiver Robert Ferguson will play at some point this season. Ferguson, who like Reynolds has not been activated for any game this season, nearly suited up against Chicago on Nov. 11, but Sherman opted to use defensive back Keith Thibodeaux because of his ability to help special teams.

"I have expressed to him how pleased I've been with his progress," Sherman said. "You have to remember this is a young man who came out of college after one year at Texas A&M (and) had been in a junior college. There's a process here. I think he's going to be a tremendous receiver.

"I'm anxious to get him on the field. I think at some point this season he'll get his opportunity. I can't tell when that's going to be."

Ferguson says he is confident with Green Bay's offense. Quarterback Brett Favre said recently that he also has noticed progress in Ferguson in the way he practices and effort he puts forth in meetings.

"He may think he's ready, but that's hard for me to say," Favre said. "He's getting better, he's practicing better, and that's hard for a guy to do, not playing."

Ferguson has been slow to learn the offense, and it's difficult to determine exactly how far along he is.

"I'm confident with the mental part of it," Ferguson said. "I think I dug myself in a hole in training camp starting out like that with a couple of missed assignments. Right now I'm trying to crawl up. I'm actually coming from the bottom up and it's a great feeling when you feel yourself improving as a player. I'm looking forward to going out there and to work hard."

Ferguson may suit up if the Packers cannot get better production out of their backup receivers Corey Bradford, Donald Driver and Charles Lee. All three have struggled this season.

"I'm in a helpless situation," Ferguson said. "No matter how good you do (in practice) you're still not getting the call. It's hard, but you've got to stay focused and understand that when your time comes, whatever the reason may be, you've got to be ready."

Jue: The cornerback took over the "nickel back" role when Edwards was lost for the season with a knee injury on Sept. 30 against Carolina. As the fifth defensive back, he has mainly played on passing downs, and often has been the target of opposing offenses.

Jue also has had to learn safety LeRoy Butler's position. Butler suffered a chest injury Oct. 21 against Minnesota and his availability for games in early November was uncertain. With Butler likely out for the rest of the season with a broken left shoulder blade, and Chris Akins in Sherman's doghouse, Jue will be playing more at safety.

Jue also has been playing on various special teams units.

Marshall: He has been backing up middle linebacker Bernardo Harris and is third string "Buck" linebacker behind Na'il Diggs and K.D. Williams. Marshall also plays on all the Packers' special teams units.

"If Bernardo goes down, I have to be ready to step up," Marshall said. "The thing I've learned most is everybody has a role to play to get to where we want to go as a unit. I'm playing my role. My role is to be a special teams player." Ferrario: The guard from the University of Wisconsin has yet to suit up for a game this season.

Martin: The sixth round pick has played the most of any of the six draft picks. Martin missed Green Bay's game at Carolina with a shoulder injury he suffered a week earlier against Washington. He also has been bothered by "turf toe" in recent weeks.

Martin was eighth on the team with nine catches for 103 yards and no touchdowns through eight games. He has shown an ability to stretch the field with his speed and has good hands. His blocking has been better than expected for a former wide receiver.


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