Notebook: Let's get physical

Physical play highlights first week of camp ... also, our insiders update the battles and the rookies' progress.

Linebacker A.J. Hawk isn't guaranteeing that brotherly-in-law love will be in the air at Lambeau Field on Saturday night, when the Packers play the Cleveland Browns in a preseason opener.

One of the Browns quarterbacks Hawk expects to face is Brady Quinn, brother of Hawk's wife Laura.

"I say all of the time to Laura, 'Well, I'm not going to do anything extra (to Quinn), I'm not going to punch him after a play. But, I'm not going to let up before the whistle, though,'" Hawk said.

Hawk and his teammates are amped up to start hitting for real after a thunderstorm washed out a live scrimmage before a crowd of more than 50,000 at Lambeau last Saturday.

The Packers' training camp has been humming on overdrive, filled with more days of practice in pads, unbridled oomph and a few donnybrooks.

"I probably shouldn't say it, but we were 6-10 last year and we didn't have a damn fight all of training camp. So, I guess we're off to a hell of a start," coach Mike McCarthy said after a big night of fights transpired Aug. 4.

The physical tone that set in from the outset of camp in Green Bay is by design.

The Packers were often overpowered on both sides of the football last year, when they took a seven-game nosedive from their NFC North-winning season in 2007 that ended with an overtime loss to the New York Giants in the NFC title game.

"We've learned the lessons that we feel that we need to apply to our football team this year," McCarthy said. "I feel we are a physical team. I feel we are a more mature team. We are definitely a stronger team."

The radical switch to a 3-4 defensive system this year included the addition of hefty defensive lineman B.J. Raji, the No. 9 overall pick in the draft who remains unsigned.

What's more, a good number of the offensive linemen bulked up, as the Packers look to bolster their zone-blocking scheme with more power runs.

"This is one of the most physical camps we've had, ever, to date," fourth-year guard Daryn Colledge said. "There's a certain energy that is moving through this offense, this defense and this locker room. It's great."

A playmaking defense that has embraced the new scheme under first-year coordinator Dom Capers has led the charge on the practice field, creating confusion and unrest for a prolific offense.

The offensive guys have literally fought back. A few linemen chased after linebacker Brady Poppinga, who had leveled running back Kregg Lumpkin during the infamous Tuesday night at the football fights.

"I like where we're at as a team," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. "I like the energy, the enthusiasm, the fights, but at the same time, I think we're coming together as a group."

Battle of the week: Jeremy Thompson vs. Clay Matthews for starting ROLB — Thompson said on Day 1 of training camp that his showdown with Matthews was "neck and neck." That has played out with the two young challengers. They not only have alternated days as the starter but have kept pace with one another health-wise. Both players dropped out of practice Aug. 6 - Matthews experienced tightness in the left hamstring he pulled during spring workouts, and Thompson was felled by a groin injury. Thompson was slated to get back on the field for the Aug. 8 scrimmage that was canceled by a thunderstorm, but Matthews wouldn't have participated. While Matthews was projected to be the starter on opening day with the clout of being a first-round draft pick this year, he could ultimately be hamstrung by the lingering leg injury. Thompson, a second-year player moved from defensive end, is as athletic as Matthews and has the edge in the critical discipline of pass coverage in the Packers' new 3-4 scheme.

Battles of the week: Jason Spitz vs. Scott Wells for starting C — A victor probably won't be declared until after the second preseason game, Aug. 22 against the Buffalo Bills. Both players have been splitting the first-team reps each day in camp. Spitz, the incumbent right guard, had the lion's share of playing time at center in the offseason while Wells recovered from shoulder surgery, but Wells has come back to the playing field stronger and isn't ready to relinquish the starting job he's held since 2005.

Jeremy Kapinos vs. Durant Brooks for punter — This has quickly become a source of consternation for the team's decision-makers, as both young challengers have stayed in step as being inconsistent. Both had their lowlights a week into camp with shanks and not getting much air under the ball as they focus on directional placement. How they fare in the early preseason games will be telling and could force the Packers to look elsewhere.

Donald Lee vs. Jermichael Finley for starting TE — Finley has flashed early in camp with his athleticism and big-play ability down the field. That's big news, in the wake of Finley's being a nonfactor for the majority of his rookie season. Lee also has stood out in the eyes of QB Aaron Rodgers for having a strong start to camp and appears up for the challenge to retain the starting job after his production slipped last season.

Player of the week: FS Nick Collins — All those concerns that the reigning Pro Bowl player would be playing catch-up in the new 3-4 defensive system for a good stretch of training camp after boycotting most of the offseason workouts for contract reasons have been quashed. Collins picked up in the first week of camp from where he left off in his breakout 2008 season, which included seven interceptions and three touchdown returns. With three picks, he was the top ballhawk for a defense that has been noticeably active and disruptive for the offense at the outset of the preseason. Strong safety Atari Bigby was thought to become the impact player on the back end of the defense with the change in scheme. Collins, though, has adapted well, is expertly diagnosing pass plays by closing on the ball in a hurry and seems content to let his play do the talking in getting the team to pony up with the contract extension he seeks.

Rookie report: DL B.J. Raji (first round) had yet to be signed as the team completed Week 1 of training camp. Raji's presence is vital because he is expected to start at left end in the base front of the Packers' new 3-4 scheme and also will move inside to his natural spot of nose tackle in sub packages. ... LB Clay Matthews (first) aggravated a left hamstring injury in practice Aug. 6 and was held out the next day. Matthews also wasn't going to participate in the Family Night Scrimmage that was rained out on Saturday. Matthews is competing with Jeremy Thompson for the starting spot at right outside linebacker. ... OL T.J. Lang (fourth) has been bouncing around along the line. He has taken reps at right tackle and both guard spots, primarily in a backup capacity. ... FB Quinn Johnson (fifth) has been fundamentally challenged at times in camp and is working on bringing down his pad level before he can push incumbents Korey Hall and John Kuhn for playing time. ... CB Brandon Underwood (sixth) is back on the field after missing time early in camp with back spasms. He is in the mix for a backup spot at a depth-laden position. ... LB Brad Jones (seventh) remains on the non-reserve PUP list because of a back injury but is considered close to being activated.

Injury report: TE Tory Humphrey could be out for the season after undergoing surgery Aug. 7 for a broken forearm he sustained in practice the previous day. A decision on Humphrey's roster status hasn't been made. ... LB Nick Barnett, who is on the non-reserve PUP list as he recovers from knee surgery last November, is expected to be tested again this week. Barnett is hopeful of being ready for the Packers' third preseason game, Aug. 28 at Arizona. ... DE Johnny Jolly has been sidelined since suffering a sprained right ankle in practice Aug. 2. The injury shouldn't keep him out too much longer. ... RBs Brandon Jackson (shoulder) and DeShawn Wynn (knee) suffered injuries the first week of camp, but they're not considered serious. ... Other players coping with early camp setbacks are LB Clay Matthews (hamstring), CB Pat Lee (back), S Anthony Smith (groin), WRs Ruvell Martin (groin) and Patrick Williams (hamstring), and LB Brad Jones (back), who is on the PUP list with Barnett.

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at and Facebook under Bill Huber.

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