Hunt, Johnson, McKenzie missing as camp starts

The first day of the Green Bay Packers' second off-season minicamp was more newsworthy for who wasn't there than who was there.

Starting defensive tackle Cletidus Hunt, one of the defense's most important and highly paid players, was absent. After practice, Packers head coach Mike Sherman gave only a short, terse answer when asked of Hunt's whereabouts. Sherman did not give a reason for Hunt's absence, but it was clear the coach was steamed.

Also absent, to nobody's surprise, were starting cornerback Mike McKenzie and free-agent bust Joe Johnson.

The Packers were expected to release Johnson after June 1. On June 2, however, Johnson remained on the team, and Sherman gave no hints as to when he would cut ties to the defensive end.

By waiting until June 1 to release Johnson, the Packers will save $4 million — Johnson's base salary — against this year's salary cap. Johnson counts $5.1 million against the cap, a figure that includes this year's portion of his signing bonus. By releasing Johnson after June 1, the financial impact — about $4.3 million — will hit the Packers' 2005 cap, not this year's cap.

"I'm still keeping my options open," said Sherman. "I haven't decided exactly what plan of attack we're going to do here. We're had some conversation with his agent, and we'll go from there."

Johnson, a two-time Pro Bowler while in New Orleans, is entering the third year of a six-year, $33 million contract. His absence was excused by Sherman.

McKenzie, meanwhile, continues to seek a trade. After practice, however, Reggie McKenzie, the Packers' director of pro personnel, sounded optimistic the team's top cornerback would remain a Packer.

Reggie McKenzie says no team has stepped up with an offer worthy of landing one of the game's better cornerbacks. The team is seeking at least a first-round pick or a player of equal caliber.

No team has offered such a high draft pick — teams would rather give up their wives than first-rounders, Reggie McKenzie quipped.

Because this is not a mandatory camp — the team is allowed only one per off-season, and that was the one the team held after the draft — neither McKenzie nor Hunt will be fined.

Also absent in the defensive backfield was safety Eric Crouch, who the Packers unexpectedly released on Tuesday. Sherman said he made the move with the possibility Crouch would try to play quarterback, the position in which he won the Heisman Trophy while at Nebraska, in Canada. Crouch tried to make the Packers as a quarterback in 2003 but quit the team on the eve of training camp.

Sidelined by injury was defensive tackle Grady Jackson, who is nursing his knee back to health. Sherman and Jackson said the absence was more precautionary than anything, and Jackson said he could have practiced if this were the regular season.

Backup offensive tackle Kevin Barry was out due to a hamstring injury suffered during a recent opportunity session.

A longer version of this story will be posted late tonight on

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