Johnnie Gray

I hope that while you're reading this article you're kicking back and enjoying a relaxing summer. For the rest, may the golf gods have mercy on you.<p>

In the past we've had a who's who in training camp when there was a need for a backup, but not this year. The Green Bay Packers staff has taken advantage of free agency and stockpiled their needs in hopes of playing in San Diego in January.

The Packer coaching staff has been very busy bringing in name talent (Joe Johnson, Terry Glenn and Hardy Nickerson) to bolster and rejuvenate a team that missed the Super Bowl by one game. As much as I have heard people complain about free agency with players jumping teams, it really is neat to have players in camp with a resume of credentials that could start elsewhere. Because of free agency teams are able to bring in tested talent, as the need to "win now" is the phrase of the new millennium.

Most notably will be at running back where the Packers are looking for a solid backup to Ahman Green. The staff has gone and recruited a host of talent at this position should the unlikely happen to Green. The cast of number two candidates include: Rondell Mealey, who has shown some flashes especially during preseason and on special teams; Herbert "Whisper" Goodman who finished NFL Europe as the leading rusher; Ki Jana Carter the first player picked overall in the 1995 NFL draft and has had an injury-plagued career, but last year played injury free; Jason Brookins, a bruising runner that averaged 3.6 a carry for the Baltimore Ravens; and, finally, Tony Fisher, a rookie at 6-foot-1 with good size. Except for Fisher you're looking at a veteran group that knows that anything can happen during camp, and they're excited about their chances of making this ball club.

Just as you sit down at one of the Packers practices eyeballing the running back situation don't hesitate to look over at the young talent happening at wide receiver. These athletes also come in with some impressive credentials of their own – height, strength, speed and most importantly athletic ability. You will hear a lot of noise and see some great catches out of this group. There are no projects this year, no physical phenoms or raw ability. These players are for real and ready to take over and be the future of the Green Bay Packers.

So this year you will have that mixture of off-season free agency and youth for training camp and it should make for good reading. I can't wait to get to training camp to be caught up in the atmosphere of competition and the smell and sounds of hard work resulting into success.

Free agency isn't so bad afterall. It has generated into a "win the Super Bowl this year" attitude that is now finally catching on. Now even the casual fan is not to disappointed in selling a jersey they purchased just two years ago at a rummage sale, or maybe on E-bay, and buying another (Hardy Nickerson) one.

Former safety Johnnie Gray played for the Packers from 1975-84. He was inducted into the Packer Hall of Fame in 1994. E-mail him at Gray24@aol.com.


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