"I'm not a two-down player," Nick Barnett said.
His eyes were wide and intense. His language was, shall we say, a bit more colorful.
Barnett, the tackling machine in the middle of the Packers' defense, didn't like being a part-time player early in the season. He wasn't so much angry as he was offended. Barnett had been a starter since the day he set foot in Green Bay as the Packers' first-round draft pick in 2003, a player as good at slicing into the backfield to drop a ball-carrier for a 2-yard loss as he was in coverage.
And now, Barnett was being removed during certain situations. Never mind that a torn ACL had ended his season 10 months earlier and the team doctors wanted to ease him back into action.
"He didn't want to hear it," inside linebackers coach Winston Moss said, "but he knew the decision came from the top and it was very important to have that structure and have that plan in place. He didn't take too kindly to it, but he understood. He's a professional. He did the best that he could with it. He was very frustrated with it but he never complained about it."
Fast forward a couple months, and all was right in Barnett's world. The rotation had been scrapped a few weeks into the season. The more he played, the better he felt and the more confident he got — both with his surgically repaired right knee and a new defensive scheme.
"The difference, if you go back and you think about it, I wasn't on the field the whole time," Barnett said. "For me, I'm an emotional player. So, for me, it's the timing of the game, it's the energy of the game, and I've got to be in there all the time. That's how I feel. By pulling me out, my emotional level drops. You know what I'm saying?"
Our cover story tells you what makes Nick Barnett tick, both on and off the field.
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Team of the Decade
From the Mike Sherman era to the Mike McCarthy-Ted Thompson regime, the kickoff to the 21st century saw its share of stars and standout performers. As the clock winds down on 2009 and with the countdown to 2010 under way, we recognize the outstanding individual achievements of the past 10 years with our Packer Report Team of the Decade. Some picks were obvious, others invite debate, in this feature by W. Keith Roerdink.
Line is Breached
Aaron Rodgers dropped back in the pocket. He didn't have time to even survey the secondary, though, before he had a pass rusher in his face. He stepped up in the pocket and tried to escape but another rusher came clean and dropped him for a sack.
Again and again, the talented Rodgers and the high-powered Packers offense was torpedoed by an offensive line that was challenged to block average defenders and almost incapable of handling upper-echelon pass rushers like Jared Allen.
If you've got a franchise quarterback — and Rodgers indeed has proved he's a franchise quarterback — then you sure as heck better be able to protect him. Rodgers isn't much help when he's laying on his back. By the time the Packers had fallen to 4-4 with a potentially crippling loss at Tampa Bay, Rodgers had been sacked a whopping 41 times.
We tell you where Ted Thompson has gone wrong in prior drafts, and Scout.com draft insider Chris Steuber tells you about the top offensive tackle prospects in the 2010 draft.
The Great Unknown
This is shaping up to be a free agency period unlike any other for the NFL and the Green Bay Packers.
With the collective bargaining agreement between the league's players and owners set to expire in March 2011, the league's run of labor peace is in jeopardy. No new deal by March 1 will mean that the 2010 season will be played without a salary cap and terms of free agency, at least for the time being, will change.
"No one really quite knows what's going to happen," said linebacker Aaron Kampman, who served part of this season as the Packers' representative to the National Football League Players Association. "It's a deadline league. This happened in '06 if you remember and commissioner (Paul) Tagliabue and the late (NFLPA executive) Gene Upshaw were able to get something done at the midnight hour. Obviously, there's a little bit of a deadline here. If they don't get it done by free agency this year, it's an uncapped year next year. So, if they don't get it done then, some people are saying, ‘Well, once it's uncapped, it won't go back.' It's like putting toothpaste back in the tube.
"It's all rhetoric right now."
Our Matt Tevsh talks about the Packers' upcoming free agents, and we tell you what the CBA talks might mean for this offseason.
Don Majkowski buys time on the pivotal play.
Packer Report archives
Only one Packers-Bears game, however, stands out in the vivid memory of the Chicago Bears' Pro Football Hall of Fame linebacker.
"My last memory of Lambeau Field? Lambeau Field … wow, I would say — I think it was Lambeau Field — (Don) Majkowski was the quarterback," said Singletary, now the coach of the San Francisco 49ers.
"Fourth down, last play of the game, he threw the ball to Sterling Sharpe. I think that was Lambeau Field, I'm not sure. But that's my last memory of Green Bay, period."
That game, of course, is the famed Instant Replay Game. This year is the 20th anniversary of the Packers' famed 14-13 victory over the hated Bears. It was indeed at Lambeau Field, on Nov. 5, 1989.
Say "Instant Replay Game," and Jerry Fontenot's memory springs into action. Fontenot, now the Packers' assistant offensive line coach, was a reserve lineman for the Bears that day. A change in employer hasn't changed his perspective on what he thinks happened.
"The famous Majkowski throw, where he was across the line of scrimmage," Fontenot said. "Yeah, yeah … that's probably one of the first things that ‘Campy' (offensive line coach James Campen) and I disagreed on when I got here. And we continue to disagree on."
We talk to the key figures from that memorable day 20 years ago.
A Knee to the Gut
The Packers had turned around their season.
They had improved to 5-4 after a critical victory over Dallas on the previous Sunday, and were taking fellow NFC playoff hopeful San Francisco to the woodshed at Lambeau Field on Nov. 22.
Then, while rushing the passer in the third quarter, Aaron Kampman's knee buckled and he went down. Moments later, he was being driven to the locker room on a cart. Less than one quarter later, far away from the action, Al Harris also went down clutching his knee. The cart came back onto the field to take Harris in for examination.
In both cases, it was the worst-case scenario: torn anterior cruciate ligaments and season-ending surgeries.
Kampman is set to be a free agent at the end of this season, and healthy or not, there was plenty of reason to believe he would not return to the Packers. Harris, who recently turned 35, is practically ancient at a position charged with defending some of the world's best athletes.
"What we found was about four-fifths of NFL players were able to return to the NFL playing field, which is pretty remarkable because the NFL playing field is such a demanding work place," said Dr. James Carey, an assistant professor in the Department of Orthopaedics at the University of Vanderbilt, an expert in ACL reconstruction and a co-author of the only study of ACL recoveries among NFL players.
Carey discusses his study and what it might mean for these proud veterans.
Plus, our Hall of Famer, Art Daley, talks to Hall of Famer Forrest Gregg, our monthly Packers trivia and more.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.