Packers notebook

Rodgers will be ready soon; Hawk third in rookie voting; McCarthy starts interviews

Aaron Rodgers this week cautioned observers not to read too much into fellow quarterback Brett Favre's tearful interview on national TV following the Packers' season-ending win at Chicago on Sunday night.

That's not to say Rodgers believes Favre will return next season. In the event, though, that the uncommon sight of an emotional Favre was a precursor to a retirement announcement, his heir apparent plans to be ready to take over.

Rodgers said he is eyeing a return to the field for the opening day of head coach Mike McCarthy's quarterbacks school March 19, which coincides with the start of the team's off-season workout schedule. Rodgers, the team's first-round draft pick in 2005, is recovering from a broken left foot sustained in a relief role of an injured Favre against New England on Nov. 19. Rodgers will be in a walking boot for a few more weeks, then will commence a training program with a personal trainer near his residence in Chico, Calif.

The 6-foot-2 Rodgers, who was listed at 223 pounds this season, said shedding some excess fat is a priority.

"Mike (McCarthy) always hounds me about my weight ... not really my weight but my body fat," Rodgers said. "He says I'm overweight, fat or whatever. All of his quarterbacks, he said, have always been around 8 percent body fat, and I was about 10. So, I want to get down to 8 percent and get a little stronger upper-body wise and, obviously, get healthy and be ready to maybe go through a 16-game grind."

Hawk third in rookie of the year voting
A.J. Hawk finished third in voting for The Associated Press Defensive Rookie of the Year, which was announced Wednesday.

Hawk, the fifth overall pick in the draft, received four votes, one behind Chicago defensive end Mark Anderson. Houston linebacker DeMeco Ryans won the award with 36 votes.

The Green Bay coaching staff off its film review credited Hawk with a team-high 155 tackles this season. The total ranks second for most tackles by a Packers rookie since the team started charting tackles in 1975. Rich Wingo holds the record with 166 in 1979.

MLB Nick Barnett, who led the club in tackles each of his first three years in the league, finished second this season with 141.

Looking ahead to 2007 opponents
The Packers entered the 2006 season with the second-easiest schedule, based on opponents' records from the previous year. They will go into next season with the 10th-easiest schedule.

Green Bay's 2007 opponents combined for a 126-130 record this season. Only NFC North champion Chicago (119-137) will have an easier schedule in the division. The Bears had what was regarded as the easiest schedule this season and will have the second-easiest ledger among all teams next season, behind only Arizona (118-138).

The cumulative records of the opponents for the Packers' other division rivals are 128-128 for Minnesota and 129-127 for Detroit. All four NFC North teams will play just seven games against teams that are in the playoffs this season.

Looking ahead to April 28-29 NFL Draft
The Packers will have the 16th pick in the first round of the draft, which will be held the weekend of April 28-29 in New York. Green Bay was part of an eight-way tie with a record of 8-8. St. Louis (119-137), Carolina (121-135) and Pittsburgh (127-129) had a weaker strength of schedule than the Packers' 128-128 this season and were slotted ahead of Green Bay in Round 1.

The Packers last picked 16th in 1994, when they traded up to take guard Aaron Taylor out of Notre Dame. Their only other No. 16 selection since the league merger in 1970 was Elon tight end Rich McGeorge that same year.

Packers have money to burn in free agency
Brett Favre gave an indication while choking back tears moments after the season ended late Sunday night in Chicago that he would render a decision on his plans for the 2007 season in the next few weeks. If Favre is good on his word, management will have ample time to come up with a game plan for attacking the start of free agency March 2 and the draft in late April.

The Packers have only a handful of notable players whose contracts are up -- running back Ahman Green and tight end David Martin are due to become unrestricted free agents, and defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins is a pending restricted free agent.

Although general manager Ted Thompson prefers to stay on the shallow end with his spending habits, he will be tempted to plunge into the deep waters of free agency because he'll have more than $30 million in salary cap space at his disposal.

With regard to money, Thompson will have to decide whether to allow the declining Pro Bowl tandem of defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila and tight end Bubba Franks to take up about $9 million in cap room and whether to appease cornerback Al Harris and linebacker Nick Barnett with contract extensions.

Green, Packers in negotiations
The team is interested in bringing back Green and has been in talks with the running back's agent. Green held up for the entire season after suffering a ruptured thigh early in the 2005 season. He reached the 1,000-yard benchmark on the ground for a franchise-record sixth time in the last seven years.

Green is seeking a multiyear contract after cashing in some with the one-year, incentive-laden deal he signed last off-season.

The other impending unrestricted free agents are David Martin and Donald Lee, defensive tackle Kenderick Allen, long snapper Rob Davis, linebackers Ben Taylor and Tracy White and journeyman quarterback Todd Bouman.

Jenkins figures to be an attractive commodity as a restricted free agent after he played like gangbusters as a late-season insertion in the starting lineup in place of Gbaja-Biamila.

Since Jenkins was signed as an undrafted free agent by Green Bay in 2003, the Packers likely will have to sign him to at least the middle tender and force a suitor to put up a first-round draft pick as compensation.

Offensive coordinator interviews under way
Head coach Mike McCarthy said Wednesday he's in the process of interviewing candidates for the vacancy at offensive coordinator, and he is aiming to have the position filled in the next two weeks.

Jeff Jagodzinski held the job for only a season before leaving Wednesday to begin his duties as head coach at Boston College. Possible in-house candidates are offensive line coach Joe Philbin and quarterbacks coach Tom Clements, who was Buffalo's offensive coordinator in 2004 and '05. Philbin is well-versed in the zone-blocking scheme that Jagodzinski implemented and McCarthy wants to retain.

Jagodzinski previously was mentored in the system by guru Alex Gibbs in Atlanta, where McCarthy might look for talent in the wake of coach Jim Mora's firing this week. Offensive coordinator Greg Knapp and quarterbacks coach Bill Musgrave, a former offensive coordinator with Carolina and Jacksonville, are prospective candidates.

Meanwhile, McCarthy suggested that no significant dismissals of assistants on his staff are in the offing. Defensive coordinator Bob Sanders and secondary coach Kurt Schottenheimer were on the hot season as late as a month ago before the defense's fortunes changed for the better in the last four games.

Quote to note
"I think he has a lot of confidence in the team. I think that people actually these last few games have realized the talent on the team. I think Green Bay is headed for a few (more) victories again. In his mind, that's hard to walk away from. The team is definitely headed in the right direction."
-- Deanna Favre's response to what she feels would convince husband/quarterback Brett Favre to come back next season during an interview with WTMJ-TV of Milwaukee after the Packers' season-ending victory at Chicago on Sunday night


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