Chatman a 'surprise' on offense

Much of what the Packers are doing on offense this season has been fairly predictable.<p>

Brett Favre continues to play and throw touchdowns like he always has done, Ahman Green is again carrying the load of the running game, the offensive line continues to be one of the best in the NFL, and a talented group of receivers that includes Donald Driver, Robert Ferguson, and Javon Walker has made several big plays. Even much of the strategy and play-calling remains the same.

An acute observer, however, will notice one major difference albeit in a small package. Maybe that is why some have not noticed. Head coach Mike Sherman revealed as much on Wednesday when discussing the efforts of his receivers at his weekly press conference.

"The biggest surprise is probably (Antonio) Chatman," he said. "He's running excellent routes. He does what you ask him to do. He's caught the ball. He's probably been the biggest surprise. I didn't really expect that."

In his second season with the Packers, Chatman, at just 5-foot-9, has become a factor as the No. 4 receiver this year after strictly handling punt and kick return duties a year ago. He continues to handle the Packers' return duties this year, but now he is a part of the Packers' game plan on offense and is in a much better frame of mind.

A year ago, he was beat down by the rigors of playing two football seasons in one year. In spring and summer, he played in the Arena Football League for the Chicago Rush. Then, he signed with the Packers and contributed in all 16 games of the NFL season. Effectively, he played football in every month of the calendar year for 2003.

"Last year, I wanted to quit football," he said. "This year, I'm loving football."

After resting and fishing for much of the off-season in 2004, Chatman came back refreshed. He was a dependable and sure-handed return man in his first year with the Packers, but it became more apparent during training camp that to keep his roster spot, he had to do more than just return kicks and punts.

"I had to come in and show them that I wanted the fourth receiver spot," said Chatman. "That was my whole goal was just to show them that I can play receiver."

So after going through the preseason with that thought in mind, he opened some eyes with his receiving skills.

"He came back, and knowing that in order to keep his job as a return man, he had to be our fourth receiver, and he's probably come the farthest in the shortest period of time," said Sherman.

Last Sunday in a 41-20 victory over Dallas, Chatman showed he can serve a vital role and provide a spark as a receiver. He made only one catch for 12 yards, but that one catch showed how far he has come. On a third-and-seven in the second quarter, he became the "hot read" when the Cowboys' defense blitzed. Favre got the ball away quickly and threw behind Chatman, who made the adjustment and snared the pass one-handed for a 12-yard gain and a first down. Later in the same drive, he took a reverse 18 yards for another first down, setting up a Javon Walker touchdown three plays later.

Just a week prior to the Cowboys game, Chatman had a career-high five catches for 50 yards as the No. 3 receiver. Starter Robert Ferguson sat out the game due to an ankle injury.

Chatman saw only a handful of snaps as a receiver last season and did not catch a pass. This season, he has caught 11 passes for 117 yards, has the respect of his teammates, and the confidence of Favre.

"I think he trusts me," said Chatman. "Before I think everybody was just thinking of me as a return man, but now, Brett knows that I now know the plays and the coverages, so he got comfortable with me."

Furthermore, Packers' coaches are formulating their game plan each week with Chatman in mind. They are running more four-wide receiver sets than a year ago, looking to keep Chatman involved.

"I like to think I'm like the tool box," said Chatman. "They just call on me when they need me, and that's fine because I wasn't even thought about last year."

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