Mini-camps mean little

Until the pads go on, it's easy to get fooled

The Packers concluded their first off-season mini-camp last week and there were some rave reviews on second-round pick Greg Jennings and Aaron Rodgers.

Memo to Packers fans: Don't fall into this trap. As long as I've covered the Packers, I can remember instances where a player looks great in shorts and a helmet, giving the look that he's a "player." Then training camp comes along and this guy looks like he couldn't even play in the YMCA league.

Mini-camps are necessary and watching the players you do get a sense of their athleticism and ability to make plays. However, until the pads are put on don't get caught up in the hype.

I equate it to a basketball player shooting alone in a gym and making every shot he takes. "Wow, he must be a great shooter!" Put a defender on him, and he's so bad he almost breaks the backboard.

In Jennings' case, I've seen skilled-position players look the part. One player who stands out still is cornerback Roosevelt Blackmon. He was a fourth-round draft pick in 1998, and I remember talking to then-defensive backs coach Bob Valesente about him and the word was Blackmon was a player.

He put the pads on in training camp and looked like someone who had played at Morris Brown, the college he attended. He was nothing like he was in shorts. Blackmon made the final roster, but but played in just three games before getting released.

Normally, skilled-position players (i.e. receivers, cornerbacks, safeties) are the players you can get a good read on in a mini-camp, because their position demands so much atleticism. However, that scrutiny has to be tempered.

I don't believe Jennings will have the dramatic fall Blackmon had. He did display good hands and route running in the mini-camp, and he was rated as a top three receiver in the draft. However, until the Western Michigan product displays his talents at least in a training camp practice, if not a preseason game, it's hard to get excited.

At least he looked good, though. It makes you feel better about a position which needs help.

As for Rodgers, the quarterback's improvement in mini-camp has to be taken differently. He's a second-year player who has done this before. Also, as a quarterback there are other qualities beyond physical that can show up just in a mini-camp.

If he's like most second-year QBs, he's likely more comfortable with everything — from calling plays in the huddle to throwing a 50-yard bomb. This is why most believe a rookie QB's best path to stardom is sitting the first season unless your name is Dan Marino, Peyton Manning or Ben Roethlisberger.

Improvement had to be seen from Rodgers, who at one point was considered the top pick in the 2005 draft before falling to the Packers at No. 24. Likely, not knowing if Brett Favre was going to return in 2006, Rodgers kicked up his off-season workouts with the possibility of replacing one of the NFL's all-time great QBs.

As it turns out, Favre is back, but the work Rodgers put in will not be wasted. Eventually, Rodgers will play, and if he has to relieve Favre in a game this upcoming season due to injury Rodgers will have a better grasp on how to succeed.

Notwithstanding, like Jennings, I need to see Rodgers perform in the preseason. Not training camp, but games. As a rookie, Rodgers was shaky, not giving many Packers fans hope if Favre was injured.

If Rodgers and Jennings continue to prove themselves, the mini-camp peformances will be looked at as their beginning. But until that happens let's remain calm, hopeful and optimistic that two of the Packers' key players on offense for the future are on the right path.

As we have seen, there's been too many Blackmons over the years to proclaim each of these players has arrived just yet.

Doug Ritchay

Editor's note: Doug Ritchay is a regular contributor to E-mail him at

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