Packers have eye on McQuarters

Among the veteran free agents on the market, the Green Bay Packers may be most interested in R.W. McQuarters. The cornerback and return specialist was released by the Chicago Bears last week.

The Packers are lacking veteran depth at cornerback and would like to improve in punt and kickoff returns. Green Bay hasn't celebrated a punt or kickoff return for a touchdown since the 2001 season.

McQuarters, 28, is entering his eighth NFL season, and still can be an effective return specialist and backup cornerback, according to Packers director of pro personnel Reggie McKenzie. "He's still got some plays in him. He's a good punt returner. That's one of the things that he has proven that he can still do and do it well," McKenzie said. "He could do it well at least for a couple more years even though he's 30-something."

McQuarters is drawing interest from other teams, but McKenzie said the Packers will take a wait-and-see approach with him.

"We're just going to play it by ear," McKenzie said. "We're not in a hurry to do anything." While he started 47 of 72 games during his five-year stint in Chicago, the bulk of McQuarter's 20 starts over the past two seasons were due to injury.

McQuarters had 295 tackles, 9 interceptions, and averaged 10.6 yards per punt return with the Bears. He scored five times – three on defense and two on punt returns. He leaves as the franchise's fourth-leading punt returner in terms of yardage with 983 yards on 93 attempts. McQuarters was fourth in the NFC last year in punt returns with a 9.9 average per return, including a 75-yard return for a touchdown.

Antonio Chatman, Green Bay's main return man during the past two seasons, has averaged 8.0 yards per punt return and 22.4 yards per kickoff return. Chatman as eighth in the NFC in punt returns with an 7.7-yard average and no touchdowns. The Packers will take a closer look at rookie receivers Terrence Murphy and Craig Bragg during training camp to determine if they are capable of improving the team's return game.

The Bears released McQuarters because of the $3.05 million base salary that he was scheduled to receive this season. The Bears also felt comfortable with starting cornerbacks Charles Tillman and Jerry Azumah, and second-year pro Nathan Vasher, who led the team with five interceptions despite playing only about a quarter of the defensive snaps last year.

Starting Packers cornerbacks Al Harris and Ahmad Carroll are backed by Joey Thomas, Jason Horton, Mike Hawkins and Chris Johnson. The Packers also are trying out a handful of free agents. Veteran Michael Hawthorne, who was one of the top cornerbacks last year, was released this off-season.

The San Franciso 49ers selected McQuarters in the first round (28th overall) of the 1998 NFL Draft. He was traded to the Bears in June of 2000.

"The guy is smart and tough," McKenzie said. "He understands the position. He can still cover, but he knows what his weakness and his strengths are and he plays to them. If you allow him to do that ... it's when you get him out there and have him act like he's a 22-year-old and say, ‘Do this. Do that.' That's not his game anymore.

"He can fit. I think he can find a way to play."


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