During his two-week absence, B.J. Raji missed more than the reps of 14 training camp practices and one preseason game.
He also missed the traditional bike ride from Lambeau Field to the practice field.
"It was really exciting," Raji said on Monday after his first practice. "Started off with the nice bike ride, which was nice. I wasn't expecting anything like that. It was cool. The fans are really something out here. It was a good experience. I had a great time out there."
Not surprisingly, Raji looked an awful lot like a guy who is two weeks behind his teammates. During one-on-one pass-rushing drills, he slipped and fell face first. There were flashes, however, of the brute strength and sublime quickness that made him the ninth pick of the draft.
"It felt good," Raji said. "My wind was good. It was just getting back into the speed of things, how fast execution moves, how fast to take your steps, how hard you shoot your hands. Those are things you can't really simulate when you're working by yourself."
So far, so good. coach Mike McCarthy said. McCarthy has Raji on a one-a-day schedule, meaning he will not practice during Tuesday morning's shorts-and-helmets workout but will practice in the full-pads session on Thursday night.
"Nice to have B.J. out here," McCarthy said. "I thought he got off to a good start out today. I'm curious to see what it looks like on film. The big test will be how he feels in the morning. The information leading up to today's practice — they meaning the strength and conditioning staff feel he is in good shape. But we've just got to be smart with his reps in this first week."
That means starting slow and gradually stepping up the reps. For a 10-play team period, McCarthy said Raji would start with three or four plays. "Hopefully" Raji will play on Saturday against Buffalo, McCarthy said.
Defensive line coach Mike Trgovac catered much of his individual attention to Raji. During special-teams periods, Trgovac generally works on technique with the entire line. But while the kickoff team went about its business, Trgovac drilled Raji separately.
Raji said he didn't feel like he was too far behind mentally. The defense was installed during organized team activities, so Raji enters camp with a firm base of knowledge. He said now it's just a matter of "refreshing" him memory.
"Once you get the concepts, it's easy, but there's a lot of defenses that sound a lot alike," Raji said. "When you're getting it at a quick tempo, you have a couple of seconds to process it and get it down. That's the tough part. The defense itself isn't that tough, it's just there's a lot of it and a lot that sounds like it. So, processing that can be a little tough at times."
Excluding the three day-before-the-game practices, only 10 practices remain in training camp. So, time is of the essence for Raji to get everything figured out so he can be an immediate contributor when the regular season kicks off. During offseason workouts, the Packers were expecting Raji to start at left defensive end, be with the No. 1 nickel and serve as the primary backup at nose tackle.
Raji is confident he can get that done.
"Practice is designed to be tougher than the games," he explained. "Going into the games, we have a game plan. It's not like we implement the entire defense. In practice, we'll just run anything because coach would want to get a look at it. When you have a game plan for a team, it's restricted, so it's easier to memorize."
Monday was the start — a start that took too long to arrive, with the former Boston College star finally signing on Friday.
"Even the year I had off in college, I was still practicing and stuff like that, so it wasn't like I was away from football," Raji said. "These two weeks, just being away from the team, it was difficult."
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