Only one thing got in the way of Nick Barnett's desire to tackle somebody: Coach Mike McCarthy's decision to make Monday night's practice a shorts-and-helmets affair.
Nonetheless, Barnett's comeback from a torn ACL took the next step when he was cleared for full-contact practices.
"I thought it went well," Barnett said. "A little bit of contact — no pads — but able to push somebody and torque it a little and see how it felt. It felt great."
McCarthy said Barnett will take "probably 50 percent of the reps in practice this week" as they ease him back into things. Barnett, who lined up with A.J. Hawk as the starters at inside linebacker in the base defense, might play on Friday night against Arizona.
Asked if he thinks about the knee when he's on the field, Barnett said: "Not really. As far as when I'm just running, I'm just running. When I hit somebody, I don't think I have a single thought of it. When I first went out there (for the screens and deceptive plays period) I was thinking, ‘I'm just going to run into him and see how it feels.' I kind of did and it felt all right. It didn't buckle or — I don't know what it's supposed to do bad, but it didn't do it."
With the full complement of inside linebackers, McCarthy, defensive coordinator Dom Capers and position coach Winston Moss have some difficult decisions to make at arguably the team's best position. Nothing is set in stone, with the coaches using all sorts of combinations in the nickel package (two linebackers, five defensive backs). Barnett, Hawk, Desmond Bishop and Brandon Chillar mixed and matched as the No. 1 duo.
Meanwhile, in a clear sign that Brady Poppinga has all but wrapped up the starting job at right outside linebacker: When Jeremy Thompson finally returned to practice on Monday night, he found himself on the left side. Thompson and Clay Matthews III — who is still out with a strained hamstring — were supposed to be competing for the job on the right side entering camp but both are behind because of the injuries. Instead, Thompson is working behind Aaron Kampman and seventh-round pick Brad Jones is behind Poppinga.
The wait for Matthews continues.
"I would say Clay is realistically going to be ready for Tennessee," McCarthy said. "Once again, that's the doctor's vision of how to bring him back off of his particular injury. It's a re-occurring hamstring, so we're giving him every opportunity to make sure this is not a re-occurring injury the rest of the season. We're going to work him back at a brisker pace this week and then I look for him to line up next week and get a full week of practice and play against Tennessee."
Kapinos uncorks long punts
With Brooks out again with a hip flexor injury, Kapinos went solo in an eight-punt sequence at practice. With a nice breeze at his back, Kapinos blasted bomb after bomb. Unofficially, he averaged 51.6 yards per punt, and all eight had ample hangtime. Kicking twice in the backed-up drill with the ball at the 3-yard line, he had punts of 50 and 59 yards. He said that was "the most solid I've hit the ball since I got here last year."
At the prompting of special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum and his mentor, former Packers punter Bill Renner, Kapinos shortened his steps, and the tinkering paid immediate dividends.
"I knew it, but sometimes, you need someone who will blatantly say, ‘Hey, do this. We did the drills inside, I want to see it outside,'" Kapinos said of his conversation with Slocum. "It's just a matter of shortening up some steps. The first step, the shorter I am, the better I am, the more I can get lift on the ball. It's just a matter of just transferring that from a staged environment to live punts."
— Backup quarterback Matt Flynn, who suffered a shoulder sprain against Buffalo, didn't throw the ball during practice and seems iffy for Friday night at Arizona.
"Matt may make it by the end of the week to practice," McCarthy said. "He's sore, so this is his first time he's gone through this type of injury. We'll see where he is at in two days. If he practices, obviously he'll have a chance to play in the game, but I probably won't know that until Wednesday."
— Undrafted rookie tight end Devin Frischknecht, a long shot to make the roster, required surgery on a broken tibia and fibula after breaking his leg against Buffalo.
— Cornerback Will Blackmon bruised a quad against Buffalo and is "questionable" against Arizona.
— McCarthy said the starters will play at least the first half against the Cardinals.
"Our first group with all the personnels will play the first half together," he said. "Whether we start the third quarter, that will be determined. That's something that is to be discussed later in the week, but that's my thought process right now."
— Practice on Tuesday is set for 10:45 a.m. in pads. On Wednesday, it's 10:15 a.m. in shells. Thursday's practice is closed to reporters and fans.
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