On the comeback trail

The Green Bay Packers remain optimistic that defensive tackle Steve Warren and running back Rondell Mealey can contribute to the team for a whole season. But both have yet to do so thus far in their careers.<p>

Mealey went down with a season-ending injury last year when he suffered a cracked right fibula during a game at Jacksonville on Dec. 3. Warren suffered a quadriceps injury in Dec. 3 of 2000, his rookie season, and spent all of last season rehabbing from his injury.

Both returned to practice with the team during the post-draft minicamp last week and are fit to re-claim their positions. The good news for them is the Packers need to build their depth at each position. But they will have to out-perform the players ahead of them to work their way up the depth chart and onto the 53-man roster.

Warren was high in the rotation at the time of his injury, backing up nose tackle Russell Maryland. But he suffered an injury similar to the one defensive tackle Santana Dotson suffered a week earlier and was forced to miss the rest of the season.

Warren's injury turned out to be more severe than Dotson's. Dotson returned in time for the season opener last year while Warren spent the season on the physically unable to perform and injured reserve lists.

Warren will be fighting for time this season against Gilbert Brown and Rod Walker at nose tackle.

"I'm not into counting numbers," Warren said. "I can only control what I can control. I just going out there practicing, trying to get the rust off from sitting out a year."

Mealey was a key special teams performer last year and received some carries from scrimmage, rushing 11 times for 37 yards. During his rookie year in 2000, Mealey was having a strong training camp before suffering torn knee ligaments during the first exhibition game of the season.

Mealey participated in the team's post-draft minicamp and is back to 100 % physically, but the mental drain of rehabbing from major injuries in two consecutive seasons has been frustrating.

"Hopefully I can go through this year with no injuries and do a great job, and be here for a long time," Mealey said.

Mealey stuck around Green Bay this off-season. He has a chance to back up Ahman Green, but he'll have company going against Herbert "Whisper" Goodman, fourth-round draft pick Najeh Davenport, and possibly a veteran free agent. The Packers have indicated that they would like to re-sign Dorsey Levens, but Levens has been negotiating with other teams.

"Opportunity is always there," Mealey said. "I just got to take advantage of it"

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