Hit the road, Jack

Houston's not exactly a tourist hot spot, but it is a hot and smoggy spot. Thus, the Packers left rainy, chilly Green Bay on Friday, a day earlier than usual for a road game.

The decision to get out of Dodge a day early for the Sunday night game at the Houston Texans was based partly on weather, partly on experience, partly to bond and partly on superstition, coach Mike Sherman said.

"I like the idea. First of all, we've done well when we've done it," Sherman said after Friday's practice. "We did it last year and we just kept doing it. I guess that falls in line with if it's working, keep doing it, and that falls in line with superstition maybe. It gives us an opportunity to get down into the environment we're going to play in and have a good practice."

Leaving a day early gives the players a chance to be together as a team, away from all the distractions at home.

"The change in venue sometimes is good. The day is spent with players being with players," Sherman said. "They're not all going in different directions as they would if we were here. So it gives them a chance to bond and do all the things that football teams are supposed to do."

The early getaway got a thumbs-up from at least a couple of the players.

"Go down there and get used to the climate and the air," starting linebacker Nick Barnett said. "Plus, when you go on Saturday, you get all excited. Like, I'm in Houston. If you go Friday, that's your excitement day."

Ditto for safety Darren Sharper.

"Especially when it's, what, 30 degrees and it's raining like it is outside," Sharper said. "We're going down to about 70-degree weather."


Speaking of Sharper, he was more optimistic than ever that he'd be in the starting lineup Sunday night. Sharper, who partially tore the posterior-cruciate ligament in the left knee while breaking up a touchdown pass in the first quarter against Dallas, missed the Washington game, had the bye week to rest further, and then played only sparingly against Minnesota last week.

Not only is he hopeful he will play Sunday, Sharper practiced Friday without the knee brace that limited him against the Vikings. He is listed as probable for Sunday night's game.

"That's my plan, to play without it," he said. "I practiced without it today and I felt fine moving and breaking and cutting, so my plan is to play without it."

Sharper hoped his play at practice caught Sherman's eyes.

"I feel like I'm moving a lot better. I think coach would attest to that, too," Sharper said.

Sherman sounded optimistic Sharper could contribute at least as an extra defensive back. As for starting, Sherman was in no hurry to make that decision.

"I would hope I will be able to use him in that capacity, maybe a little bit more," Sherman said. "We'll see how he feels tomorrow. Today was the first day he really got work, so I really have to wait until tomorrow to see how he came out of today."

Sharper has a couple of additional sources of motivation. First, his brother, Jamie, is a starting linebacker for the Texans. Second, the Texans have a talented receiving corps, led by budding star Andre Johnson, and his services would come in handy given the defensive breakdowns of last week.

"He's probably a little stronger than Moss," Sharper said of Minnesota star Randy Moss. "We're going to mix it up against him."

Only two players missed practice: Pro Bowl guard Marco Rivera and backup tight end David Martin.

Rivera's wife, Michelle, was close to delivering the couple's third child but was expected to be in the lineup Sunday. Martin is listed as questionable with an ongoing knee injury he aggravated against Minnesota. With Sherman giving Ben Steele a major vote of confidence this week — comparing his route-running skills with those of former Pro Bowler Wesley Walls — it appears the Packers will use Steele as their primary backup against the Texans.

Nose tackle Grady Jackson, listed as probable with a swelled left knee, missed Wednesday's and Thursday's sessions but practiced Friday and is expected to start Sunday.

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