Rookie Rodgers must turn focus to football

Cory Rodgers, the first of the Packers' fourth-round draft picks in April, was given probation for his role in a melee outside a Texas bar. Now, it's time to turn his attention to providing an impact as a returner and receiver.

For those worried whether the Green Bay Packers had drafted a thug who would mar the franchise's reputation, apparently that's not the case.

Cory Rodgers, the first of the Packers' fourth-round draft picks in April, was given probation for his role in a melee outside a Texas bar on May 26, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported Tuesday night.

Rodgers, 23, was arrested after police said he fired two shots in the air after an early morning brawl near Fort Worth, where he played collegiately with Texas Christian University. That one of their players got into such a situation and was carrying a gun no doubt made Packers officials cringe, but, if you buy his lawyer's version of the story — as the judge did — Rodgers pulled the trigger in a defensive, not offensive, mode.

Police said the incident included as many as 60 people in a wild brawl, with people swinging pool cues and bottles. Some 20 police officers were sent to the bar. As they worked to get the situation under control, they heard two shots fired by Rodgers from inside his car.

According to Jeff Kearney, Rodgers' attorney, the Packers' 6-foot wide receiver and kick return prospect was not involved in the brawl — though some people involved in the fracas said it started when Rodgers refused to give autographs — and that he fired the shots to scare off a group of people who had surrounded him.

"I think our investigation and the DA's investigation both indicated that, when he discharged the firearm, he didn't fire at or in the direction of anyone," Kearney told the newspaper. "He simply fired into the air to end a situation that was somewhat tense and to disperse the crowd — and it worked."

Kearney added, "There is evidence to indicate that he was just defending himself."

If that indeed is how things played out, then Packers general manager Ted Thompson must have breathed a deep sigh of relief. The last thing he needs is one of his players getting into serious trouble. A lot of things get swept under the rug — or at least sugarcoated — when you're winning, but teams and executives get a whole lot less slack when the team is struggling on the field.

Rodgers received 15 months' probation, a $500 fine and must perform 80 hours of community service with at-risk teens. If he stays out of trouble, the conviction will be erased from his record.

With that behind him, it's time for Rodgers to focus on his football future.

The Packers need Rodgers to not only make the team, but make an impact. While it's asking a lot for Rodgers to step in at wide receiver, no matter how poor the position, the Packers desperately need him to improve a return game that has been a big-time weakness since Allen Rossum left a few years ago.

Antonio Chatman gave the Packers a set of good hands, but he didn't provide many big swings in field position and momentum. Big plays in the return game will be particularly necessary this coming season given the weaknesses and questions surrounding the Packers' offense.

The Packers need as many "free" yards as they can get, and that's something Chatman didn't provide nearly often enough. In his three seasons in Green Bay, Chatman had just three kickoff returns of 40 or more yards and seven punt returns of 20 or more yards. It's a wonder he didn't dislocate an arm, given his league-leading 63 fair catches the past three seasons.

Definitely more quick than fast, Rodgers comes with a stellar collegiate pedigree. In three seasons at TCU, he averaged 12.0 yards per punt return and 24.6 per kickoff return, including two touchdowns.

He struggled catching the ball during the minicamps and organized team activities, but perhaps that will improve now that he can focus on football instead of his legal woes. It had better.

He's far from guaranteed a roster spot, despite his draft status. Look for the Packers to keep six wide receivers. One will be Donald Driver and another will be second-round pick Greg Jennings. Perennial underachiever Robert Ferguson probably has a job, too, given the Packers have nobody else with experience. Veterans Marc Boerigter and Rod Gardner certainly will account for one, if not two spots.

That leaves little room for Rodgers if he isn't delivering as a returner. To be polite, he's a project as a wide receiver, and he's facing a cavalcade of young, raw-as-frozen-steak prospects, one of whom could rise up and steal a roster spot.

So, two words of advice for Rodgers. One, study your playbook. And second, next time you're out, leave your gun at home. That's especially true if you visit Nick Barnett's bar.

Lawrence is a regular contributor to Send comments to

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