One thing that stands out with this 2007 team, which got together for the first time this year, is the overall quickness. The Packers are going with a healthy mix of veterans and younger players that are very confident and able to use their quickness and speed to their advantage, instead of having to think where they should be on certain plays. Should make for a big difference on offense and defense.
A few examples:
-- Donald Lee, who ran with the first-team offense on a number of occasions, gives the Packers more quickness over Bubba Franks.
-- Cornerback Will Blackmon, who missed most of last season with injuries, plays very quick, as does free agent pickup Frank Walker, who batted away a number of passes in drills.
-- Charles Woodson is in better shape than he was at this point last year, according to secondary coach Kurt Schottenheimer, and that was evident in his play in earlier practices.
-- Running back Vernand Morency not only has quickness, but has added bulk to absorb the extra pounding that he will receive this season.
-- Brandon Jackson was unable to attend the minicamp due to a mandatory NFL commitment, but he has the best quickness of any of Green Bay's backs.
-- The team's wide receiver corp from Donald Driver to the newest draft picks has great speed and toughness. Rookie draft pick James Jones has decent 'football speed' but even greater size and toughness to make catches with a defender(s) in his face.
If you thought he had a good season as a rookie last year, wait till this year. Hawk looked strong and sharp (physically and mentally) throughout the camp, picking off a Brett Favre pass in a red zone drill on Sunday, which shows he is picking up more on pass defense.
Aside from that, he gave team's running backs and receivers a hint of his toughness, despite drills that were conducted without pads and in shorts, with significant contact in attempts to swat a ball away, or by using a firm 'two-hand touch' on a ball carrier.
Hawk said he is excited that the team selected Justin Harrell with its first pick of the recent NFL draft. Harrell and the already experienced defensive line should be able to free Hawk to do more damage to opposing offenses.
One position where competition for jobs will be extra high in training camp this season will be at safety. If the Packers don't improve at this position this year, they never will.
Aside from incumbents Marquand Manuel and Nick Collins, third-round draft pick Aaron Rouse, third-year pro Marviel Underwood, second-year pros Tyrone Culver, Atari Bigby, and Charlie Peprah will be competing for roster spots.
The Packers likely will keep four safeties. Unless Rouse completely bombs in training camp, and there is no reason to think he will, he should be a lock to make the team. That may leave Underwood, Culver, Bigby and Peprah battling for one spot, unless, the Packers part ways with Manuel.
Saturday, May 19
Despite throwing a couple of interceptions in the first practice on Friday, Ingle Martin seemed to settle in a little more with the first-team offense during 11-on-11 drills.
Martin is probably benefiting more from this minicamp than anybody. When Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers get the green light to practice in team drills in the upcoming Organized Team Activities practices and in training camp, Martin will see his number of reps drop significantly.
So far, Martin is making the most of his reps, and Mike McCarthy said he is pleased with Martin's progress. Martin struggled big time in training camp last year, often drawing the ire of McCarthy, but the second-year quarterback has made big strides this off-season. He looks and is playing much smoother. His participation in McCarthy's quarterbacks school obviously has paid off.
Friday, May 18
Favre and Rodgers
Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers each took limited snaps during 7-on-7 drills and some individual drills in the first of four practices inside the Don Hutson Center. Neither of the two participated in any of the two 11-on-11 scrimmages due to their recent ankle and foot surgeries.
Favre, who said earlier in the day that he hasn't thrown a football since the team's regular season finale in Chicago on New Year's Eve, looked pretty rusty. His passes were often wobbly and off the mark. However, Favre did heave a deep throw to a wide open Ruvell Martin in a 7-on-7 drill with (guess who?) Marquand Manuel chasing after he was badly out of position.
Rodgers, who has been participating in the team's off-season workout program and quarterbacks school in Green Bay since March 19, looked good. Rodgers has been throwing with the team's younger receivers for the last two months. His confidence in the team's offense seems better than ever.
Rodgers said he recently began throwing in the quarterbacks school and he said the foot that sustained a broken bone is healed. Rodgers says that he weighs about 221 pounds right now and would like to get down to about 215.
"Just get my body fat really low, and I think it will be good for my body and for the season," Rodgers said.
It sure seems that the wide receiver will be a June 1 casualty. Ferguson did not take part in any of the team drills, and was limited in the individual drills on Friday. He is recovering from a sprained foot that he sustained early last October.
Coach Mike McCarthy said after practice that Ferguson will be held out of drills until the Organized Team Activities practices begin on May 31.
With Ferguson's high salary and the fact that the team selected two receivers in the recent NFL draft, he appears to be headed toward the waiver wire.
A change of scenery probably would be best thing to happen for the seventh-year wide receiver.
Tight end situation
Donald Lee had a chance to play with the first-team offense during 11-on-11 drills, ahead of Bubba Franks. Mike McCarthy said afterward that he is experimenting and not making a determination on any starters this weekend.
"We're creating competition at all of our positions, and it's no different there," McCarthy said. "No jobs are going to be won this weekend. The biggest thing is to give everybody work and get as much information on all of our players."
Franks has struggled in each of the past two seasons, so it appears that McCarthy may want to get a younger player, like Lee, in amongst the starters. Look for Lee to get more opportunities in the upcoming OTA's and in training camp.
Charles Woodson, Will Blackmon, James Jones, Shaun Bodiford and Greg Jennings fielded punts out of a jugs machine in that order during practice. Woodson was the team's main punt returner last season but only averaged a mediocre 8.9 yards per return.
The Packers have made it no secret that they want to improve in all areas of special teams this year, and returning punts is one of those areas.
Blackmon, Jones and Bodiford will be the likely three to compete for the punt return job in training camp. Bodiford has the NFL experience of returning punts, but Blackmon and Jones each starred in college in that area.
Running with the first-team
Vernand Morency lined up with the first-team offense at running back. Morency has the inside track at starting in place of the departed Ahman Green. The third-year pro has bulked up a little this off-season through the team's off-season workout program.
At this point in the off-season, Morency and Jackson will probably be sharing the load at running back. Both are quick, slashing-type runners. Morency has better size, but Jackson has amazingly quick feet.
Jackson will not be participating in this weekend's minicamp due to a mandatory NFL marketing function for selected draft picks in Los Angeles this weekend. McCarthy said there is nothing that neither he nor Jackson could do about skipping the function. Fortunately for Jackson, he is not missing out on any new installations.
"You'd like him to be here, but everything he participated in the rookie minicamp was repeated today," said McCarthy. "When we get back from Memorial Day (weekend) we will repeat this whole process, so I think he will be fine."
Morency has the inside track to start when the regular season opens, but Jackson will get his share of carries, which should make for a productive tandem.
Todd Korth is managing editor of PackerReport.com and Packer Report magazine. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.