Johnnie Gray: Training camp review

Defensive line, Jones and Franks have been impressive for Packers

Th recent Packers training camp was the best one for me to observe in a long time and probably since the Super Bowl years. I know I was more enthusiastic about going over to practice and seeing how well these youngsters improved every day.

After two years of not giving quarterback Aaron Rodgers much support, he comes back this year and blows the competition out of the water. His dedication and hard work in the off-season paid off. It showed in his poise and presence on the field so much that the coaches are going with just two quarterbacks. It was fun being around him this summer and he is indeed an NFL quarterback.

It also was fun to watch wide receiver James Jones following in the footsteps of Donald Driver and Greg Jennings. Jones followed the same blueprint of Driver and Jennings. He caught everything with his hands, worked hard at every practice, listened and went about his job as a professional. I never saw any cockiness nor did I see a young man being led around and taught every page of the playbook. He stepped right in as if he just came off the practice squad.

Defensive end Larry Birdine didn't make the team on Saturday only because the Packers couldn't keep 12 linemen. This year 11 is a little bit of a reach because last year they kept ten. Other than the kicker position, this was the most competitive. These guys busted their humps every day and it showed on game day, no matter what unit was in there. This was the unit that jump-started the Packers in that four-game winning streak to end the season last year. They're not brash, well at least not yet, but they do realize that should the offense struggle, it's on them to make plays and cause turnovers. They will need to be aggressive and will rise up to the challenge no matter who is on the schedule.

My good luck story is tight end Bubba Franks. All eyes were on him this camp and when he dropped that easy pass in the first preseason game, I bet I was the only one that was on his side. I saw Franks get poked in the eye at the Old City Stadium (East High School) practice and watched him struggle with the shield in practice, which he expressed vocally that he didn't like wearing. The second game against Seattle he makes that catch without the shield and the crowd gave him a rousing applause. The third game he not only catches a pass, but carries three defenders for extra yardage. He looks like the Bubba Franks of old. His continued success allowed the Packers for now to keep only two tight ends when last year they had four but most importantly someone that quarterback Brett Favre can count on to get short yardage when the running game gets stalled. Last year that trust was not there nor was Franks' confidence.

I'll try to control my emotions after the Eagles game but, hey, it is the start of the season.

Johnnie Gray

Former safety Johnnie Gray played for the Packers from 1975-84. He was inducted into the Packer Hall of Fame in 1994. E-mail him at

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