Packers notebook

Linebacker Brady Poppinga, who made an incredibly quick recovery from a major knee injury, will start at strong-side linebacker when the Green Bay Packers open their season against the Chicago Bears. Meanwhile, rookie Greg Jennings, Green Bay's top receiver in the preseason, will start opposite Donald Driver, Packers coach Mike McCarthy said today.

Poppinga sustained a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee last Dec. 11, in his first start of the season against the Detroit Lions. The second-year pro was expected to miss the early part of this season, but began to practice in mid-August and played in Green Bay's final two preseason games.

"I never really expected it to happen," Poppinga said. "I knew it was a possibility, so the bottom line is I'll just give the greatest amount of effort I can to contribute to the team. It just so happens I'm probably going to be a starter. But it doesn't really matter if you're starting, you just have to go make plays, and that's my focus, to be a playmaker."

Fifth-year pro Ben Taylor was expected to start, but is now listed as the top backup at both the strong-side and weak-side linebacker positions.

Jennings finished the preseason with 12 receptions for 328 yards and long catches of 89 yards and 85 yards, easily beating out sixth-year pro Robert Ferguson for the starting job. Ferguson had one catch for 5 yards against Tennessee and finished the preseason with four receptions for 54 yards.

Jennings' 328 receiving yards in the preseason were the third-most of any NFL player in the last seven years, behind the 400 yards gained by Randy Moss in 2000 and the 331 by Chicago rookie Mark Bradley last year.

"Clearly I've never seen a rookie that productive that fast," McCarthy said. "With that in mind, it was really not a reflection on Robert Ferguson at all. Robert, Donald and Greg all have excellent flexibility. Very rarely do you have three receivers who can play all three positions and are interchangeable."

Henderson, Blackmon return
Fullback William Henderson and rookie cornerback Will Blackmon returned to practice on Monday for the Packers. Henderson expects to be ready for Sunday's season opener while Blackmon will use the next three to four weeks as his training camp.

Henderson, entering his 12th season, underwent arthroscopic surgery to clean up cartilage in his knee after he was injured in a preseason game on Aug. 19 against Atlanta.

McCarthy said Henderson was a bit sore after practice on Monday, but Henderson doesn't expect that to keep him from playing.

"I had no problems, just fitting in what the coaches have me fit in," Henderson said. "It's a go."

Blackmon, a fourth-round draft choice out of Boston College, was on the field for the first time since breaking his foot May 21 during the second post-draft mini-camp. He missed all of the team's organized team activities (OTAs) practices at the end of May and June, and all of training camp.

When Blackmon returns, he is expected to serve as a backup cornerback and possibly as a punt returner, one of his roles while at Boston College.

Practice squad formed
Re-signing six players and adding two newcomers, the Green Bay Packers Monday assembled their initial 2006 practice squad.

The team has re-signed tight end Zac Alcorn, safety Atari Bigby, cornerback Patrick Dendy, wide receiver Chris Francies, wide receiver Calvin Russell and defensive end Dave Tollefson, all of whom were released in recent preseason roster reductions, to the practice squad.

In addition Monday, the team signed tackle Travis Leffew and fullback Brandon Miree to practice-squad contracts.

Leffew, a 6-foot-4, 292-pound rookie, played with Jason Spitz, Green Bay's third-round selection in the 2006 draft, at Louisville. A four-time all-conference selection in college, he had signed as a non-drafted free agent with Chicago.

Miree, a 6-foot, 236-pound player in his second year out of Pittsburgh, spent all of 2005 on the Broncos practice squad. Denver's seventh-round selection in the 2004 draft, he spent that year on the Broncos' injured reserve. Allocated to NFL Europe before the '05 season, he played for the Rhein Fire.

The Packers have re-assigned Bigby jersey No. 20 and Russell No. 17. Leffew will wear No. 61, while Miree has donned No. 40. All other players will keep the numbers they wore during training camp.

Injury update
Offensive guard/tackle Junius Coston is not expected to play in the season opener due to a knee injury sustained in the preseason finale last Friday against Tennessee. McCarthy said he didn't know the severity of the injury but didn't anticipate it would require surgery.

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