Heat on Nall to step up his play

With all the speculation before the NFL draft concerning whether this would be the year the Packers would draft the heir to Brett Favre's starting position, and with all the talk surrounding a possible trade for Tim Couch, one player has been forgotten.

Craig Nall.

While the Packers ponder life without Favre, Nall waits for his chance. While the Couch trade rumors boiled, Nall was the main quarterback character at minicamp. And with the Packers electing not to draft a quarterback last month, Nall will enter his third training camp in July well-versed in the offense.

One small problem, though: Nall hasn't shown he's capable of being the man in 2005 or 2006 or 2000-and-whatever. About all he's proven is he can beat out Akili Smith for the No. 3 quarterback spot.

Nall's professional career has had some highs, some lows, and, with two kneel-downs comprising his entire NFL regular-season resume, a whole lot of carrying a clipboard.

A year ago at this time, Nall was tearing up NFL Europe. He started 10 games for the Scottish Claymores, compiling league highs with 19 scoring strikes and a 95.9 passer rating. That final lofty number was padded considerably with back-to-back masterpieces of 22 of 31 for 313 yards and three touchdowns and 14 of 16 for 207 yards and a pair of touchdowns. In that second game, he compiled a perfect passer rating of 158.3.

Sure, those lofty numbers were posted against NFL Europe-caliber secondaries and pass rushers. But they were posted with NFL Europe-caliber wide receivers and offensive linemen.

Those are the highs. The lows came at training camp last year and during the recent minicamp. While Nall beat out Smith to keep his roster spot, it wasn't as if Nall was stellar. Nall completed just 51.9 percent of his passes with no touchdowns, two interceptions and an awful 54.7 rating.

During minicamp, Nall's accuracy was erratic. For every two perfect passes, Nall threw one that sailed and another that landed at the receiver's ankles. Nall was hard on himself afterward, as was Packers coach Mike Sherman.

"I want to be perfect; I want to be great," Nall said. "Sometimes, it kind of hinders me a bit. I start trying too hard and forcing balls, instead of just relaxing and playing."

Sherman was a little less harsh but hardly lavish in praise.

"He's done some very good things at different times; really has made some good decisions moving his feet," Sherman said after the final minicamp practice. "He had some inconsistencies at times and that's going to be Craig's biggest challenge just to be a consistent play-after-play, down-after-down, game-after-game quarterback."

With Favre's throws limited at the minicamp — he spent as much time playing safety as part of a thrown-together defense during seven-on-seven drills — and undrafted free agent quarterback Scott McBrien of Maryland limited by a groin injury, Nall either split snaps with Doug Pederson or pretty much ran the show himself during the seven practice sessions. Nall, an admitted harsh critic, emerged less than pleased with his accomplishments.

"I have to eliminate those days where I take a step back," Nall said after one of the practices. "Mentally, I think I'm making the right reads and going to the right spot with the ball. But it's just frustrating whenever I'm trying to make a perfect throw and the ball kind of sails on me a bit. I just have to work those things out."

Nall says the Couch rumors aren't a distraction or weighing on his mind.

"I have more competition between my ears than I probably have on the field," Nall said.

Clearly, there will never be another Favre. But until the day comes when the Packers have faith that the 2002 fifth-round choice can play like Tom Brady (sixth round, 2000) instead of Wayne Brady (talk-show host, comedian), there always will be the Tim Couch sort of rumors. There always will be someone gunning for Nall's spot on the roster.

"It's probably going to be like that for the rest of my career," Nall said. "Hopefully it'll be a long time that I'm able to compete. It's just part of the game. It helps you get better and stay on your toes and be accountable for what you do out there on the field. I think I just need to do a little better job of making some plays out there on the practice field."

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