Sidelines: Chatman's value grows with Walker out

Antonio Chatman has always been a guy who's quick to seize the opportunities that lay before him. Small wonder that the sure-handed wide receiver/kick returner moves into the 2005 season expecting bigger and better things of himself and his team. Ask him to be more specific and his eyes widen with the eagerness of a child on Christmas morning. "A couple of punt returns to the house!" Chatman says. "I'd also like to make 40-50 catches – that would make me a very happy dude."

The former Arena League standout is back for his third season with the Packers and the view here is that Chatman's experience as Green Bay's fourth wide receiver becomes even more valuable given Javon Walker's holdout. I'm not at all suggesting that Chatman is in Walker's class as a receiver but I think it's fair to say that the 5-foot-9 speedster has demonstrated an ability to get open and hang onto the ball. He's earning Brett Favre's confidence.

Last season, Chatman became more of an offensive threat, snagging 22 passes for 246 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed four times for 36 yards and took on the role of the Packers' No. 3 receiver for the final two regular season games, plus the playoff game against Minnesota after Robert Ferguson was sidelined with a head/neck injury. He enjoyed his best game against the Lions in Detroit, pulling down 5 passes for 50 yards. Both were career highs.

As a kick returner, Chatman has been steady, if unspectacular. He finished eighth in the NFC with a 7.7-yard average on punt returns (32 for 245 yards) while averaging 22.6 yards per kickoff return (25 for 565 yards), including a career-long 59-yarder against the Vikings. Though he hasn't broken one for a TD in two seasons, he's clearly got the potential to do it.

Should Walker continue his holdout – and all signs are pointing to it – Chatman is poised to take advantage of the opportunity. To have more passes thrown his way. To keep building his confidence. To demonstrate his versatility and value to this team.

During the spring minicamps, Chatman looked comfortable with all three of the quarterbacks (Craig Nall, Aaron Rodgers and J.T. O'Sullivan) who are vying to be Favre's backup this season.

"Honestly, I think Craig Nall throws the ball even harder than Brett does right now," said Chatman. "Sometimes, we have to tell Nall to slow it down a little bit! We'll have to see how it is when Brett comes back to make a real comparison, though."

As to the top draft choice, Aaron Rodgers, Chatman says he likes what he sees so far. "I like him, even though he doesn't throw me the ball as much as says he wants to. I think he's going to be great for this offense. He throws a pretty ball. It's no duck. You see the laces really good and he puts it on you. That's what I love. He leads me the way I need to be led and I really like him."

The Packers like Chatman, too, and, depending on who shows the most promise on punt and kick returns in training camp, his improvement as a wide receiver could very well dictate his spot on the roster.

Tom Andrews

Editor's Note: Tom Andrews began covering the Packers in 1974 as a reporter for Milwaukee radio stations WZUU and WOKY. He has been a contributing writer to Packer Report since 1999 and his articles have also appeared in the Green Bay Packers Yearbook, Packer Profiles, Packer Tracker and Sports Collectors Digest among other publications. Andrews is also president of Andrews Media Ventures, a Milwaukee area media and communications consultancy. He will be contributing columns for

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