Early training camp impressions

PackerReport.com's Doug Ritchay comments on the highs and lows of the first week of practices for the Green Bay Packers.

One week has elapsed since the Packers opened training camp and many things have happened already — good and bad.

Some of the good includes rookie wide receiver James Jones making a positive impression, while one of the negatives was two defensive tackles reporting to camp out of shape. With this in mind, here are some notable developments through the first week of camp.

Vernand Morency injured: He started camp as the team's No. 1 halfback but a knee injury could sideline him for most of training camp. This opens the door for second-round pick Brandon Jackson to become the starter.

Jackson better be everything the Packers say he is when they drafted him. If not, and if Morency is out a while, the running back position becomes a serious issue. Knowing this, general manager Ted Thompson said he's not shopping around for a veteran like former Packers Tony Fisher, just in case.

"Obviously we're disappointed Vernand is not going to be able to play in maybe the first couple of preseason games," said Thompson. "We'll see how he goes after that. We also have some young fellows here we need to see play, and need to see practice, so that affords them an opportunity."

James Jones: The third-round pick from powerhouse San Jose State (just kidding) has opened eyes so far. What does this mean? Nothing. Even if Jones performs well in the team scrimmage tonight he needs to step up against an opponent's top defensive backs, not training camp bodies. Hopefully the first preseason game at Pittsburgh will afford him a chance. Nonetheless, it's good to see a draft pick making strides, no matter the situation.

Kicking game: Incumbent Dave Rayner and sixth-round pick Mason Crosby are locked in a battle to be the kicker. Both have done OK so far, but the preseason will determine who sticks. Not only is making field goals a priority (Rayner was 74 percent last season), so is kicking off consistently to at least the 5-yard line. If they both match each other in field goal opportunities, kickoffs will be the determining factor. Keep an eye on it.

Pickett/Jolly: Ryan Pickett and Johnny Jolly, two defensive tackles, showed up at camp out of shape and failed physicals. Pickett, a proven veteran, wasn't much of a worry for the Packers, believing their starter would be fine. Still, as a leader of the defensive line, don't you want to set examples? Make that good examples.

Meanwhile, Jolly, who's in a fight to stay employed, shows up like he just came back from Burger King. If it comes down to him and another player for a final spot, his approach to start camp could cost him. It's not like he didn't know when camp started.

Donald Driver: The Packers' No. 1 wide receiver failed his physical due to shoulder injury, but he returned after a few missed days. Knowing the Packers' are thin at wide receiver, they should take this approach to the preseason with him: Sit him the first and fourth preseason games and play him in the other two. He's a 32-year-old veteran, who has good chemistry with Brett Favre. Also, he's invaluable in the passing game. Without him, the Packers are up the creek, something they need to avoid.

Offensive line: Remember last year when camp started and there was daily talk about the offensive line? We hear little of that now, as the youth added to the interior part of the line improved steadily in 2006, making this a position of strength.

Knowing the offense is limited at the skill positions, it's imperative the line performs well to give Favre and Co. every chance to succeed. The line finished off 2006 strong and must start this year the same.

Charles Woodson: The veteran cornerback played through a shoulder injury last season and even returned punts. This year, through one week, the crafty vet has yet to sit out practice for an injury. This is a surprise. He comes off as a player who doesn't need all these practices and you would expect him to suffer a phantom hamstring injury at some point.

So far, no injury. Still, it'll be wise for the Packers to monitor his playing and practice time, as would be with Al Harris, as these two are indispensable on defense. Their health is an enormous concern.

Two-days? What two-a-days?: Coach Mike McCarthy is giving the team every Wednesday off through camp. Also, two-a-days, which were prevalent even five years ago are disappearing quicker than a Big Mac on Jolly's plate.

Considering how much work teams and players put in the off-season, it's crucial a team doesn't get worn out in August. I remember 15, 20 years ago when teams beat the junk out of each other in camp to get ready for the season. Not anymore, It's all about being fresh, and it's not like players forget to tackle. Once the preseason starts, and jobs are on the line, players do what they need to survive.

Doug Ritchay

Doug Ritchay is a frequent contributor to PackerReport.com and Packer Report magazine. E-mail him at dritchay@sbcglobal.net.

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