The Green Bay Packers kicked off their 2009 training camp Saturday afternoon at new Ray Nitschke Practice Field with a relatively smooth practice minus one big piece of the puzzle. First-round draft pick B.J. Raji was absent, yet to agree to terms on a contract.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy had no update on the 337-pound Raji following Saturday's practice and it remains to be seen when the No. 9 overall pick will sign. Only four of the first 12 picks in the draft were signed as of 2 p.m. CT Saturday which could be delaying matters concerning Raji's contract.
"It's always important for all of your players to be here, particularly the young ones," said McCarthy. "Business sometimes gets in the way of football. That's part of the National Football League. That's just the way it goes sometimes."
Packers defensive end Justin Harrell was in a similar spot to Raji two years ago as a first-round pick but managed to sign just before the Packers first practice.
"You don't really have any control over it because it's between the agent and the Packers. I'm pretty sure they're working hard to get a deal done. He'll come in here and work hard. He's a great player. Whenever he gets the deal done, we'll welcome him here and be ready to go to work."
All of the other Packers draft picks, besides outside linebacker Brad Jones (PUP list), participated in their first training camp practice including Clay Matthews, who signed Thursday. Matthews had missed some time in the OTA's and mini-camps with a hamstring injury.
While Raji saw action at defensive end with the No. 1 unit during the off-season, Johnny Jolly assumed his role Saturday lining up next to Ryan Pickett (at nose tackle) and Cullen Jenkins at the other defensive end.
According to NFL.com, the four draft picks that have signed as of Saturday afternoon were the Lions' Matthew Stafford (No. 1 overall, six years, $72 million), the Rams' Jason Smith (No. 2 overall, no terms disclosed), the Jets' Mark Sanchez (No. 5 overall, five years, $60 million) and the Raiders Darrius Heyward-Bey (No. 7 overall, five years, $23.5 million guaranteed).