Enemy Lines: Green Bay
By Scout.com Staff
More than ever, the Packers might need their iron-man quarterback to remain healthy for another entire season.
Green Bay has gotten next to nothing out of its three backups in the first two preseason games after Brett Favre sparkled in each, albeit in a cameo role. The trouble is that Favre has a big chink in his supposedly indestructible armor.
Last week, the NFL's only three-time MVP revealed that he has a bad hip. He's played with avascular necrosis since he broke into the league with Atlanta in 1991 - and managed to start a record 225 straight games with the Packers since his arrival in '92.
The debilitating condition, which cut short the two-sport career of Bo Jackson, stems the blood supply to the hip socket. In the case of Jackson, the joint eroded, and he had to undergo hip-replacement surgery.
"To this day, it bothers me from time to time," said Favre, 35, adding he's lost flexibility in the hip and that having it replaced is a possibility after he's done playing.
He's already far exceeded the prognosis of a litany of NFL team doctors and trainers who examined Favre entering the 1991 draft after he suffered the injury in the East-West Shrine college all-star game.
In fact, the Packers were prepared to fail Favre on the physical he took for them a year later, which would have voided the trade with Atlanta. Then-general manager Ron Wolf, though, was so insistent on acquiring Favre, in exchange for a first-round draft pick, that he called on another of the team's doctors for a second, more favorable opinion. The trade was consummated, and the rest is history.
"You're kind of rolling the dice, I guess," Favre said in retrospect. "They said I wouldn't play (past) three or four years. But, obviously, they were wrong, and Ron was willing to take that risk."
As a way to help himself stay out of harm's way on the field this season, Favre took up an intensive workout program with a personal trainer during the off-season.
Favre, whom head coach Mike Sherman excused from the mini-camps, reported to training camp in his best shape in five years, weighing 217. The weeks of toiling at his home in Mississippi have paid early dividends.
Favre followed a 9-for-10, 91-yard performance against San Diego in the preseason opener Aug. 8 with one impressive series of work in a 27-7 loss at Buffalo on Saturday. Favre completed four of six passes for 41 yards in a 13-play, 75-yard drive, which culminated with a 12-yard touchdown throw to halfback Ahman Green.
On the scoring play, the reshaped, revitalized Favre escaped the pursuit of blitzing linebacker Jeff Posey on a designed bootleg to the right, turned back to the middle and lofted a pass to Green in the left side of the end zone.
"He's been sharp," Sherman said. "I think with Brett Favre, most things are exceptional, this camp or even previously. But, he's been very sharp. Great decision-making, accuracy, his arm. Everything."
Meanwhile, Favre's understudies of rookie Aaron Rodgers, Craig Nall and J.T. O'Sullivan have hardly given Packers fans comfort that the team could carry on in the event Favre were to go down with a serious injury. The triumvirate has combined to complete only 15 of 36 passes for 91 yards and been sacked a total of six times in the two preseason outings.
Rodgers, the team's first-round draft pick this year and cast as Favre's heir apparent, has struggled both times out.
He played most of the first half and into the third quarter Saturday, working with the first- and second-string units, but had trouble connecting with receivers. He was 4-of-9 throwing for just 21 yards. His night ended with an interception on a poorly thrown ball on a short route to the outside.
Nevertheless, the retired Wolf, who visited training camp last week, believes the Packers made the right decision in drafting Rodgers, a would-be No. 1 pick who fell to them at No. 24. Never mind the team's glaring needs on defense.
"When you're (picking) in the 20s, you better take the best football player. Damn the position (needs)," Wolf said. "You can get in trouble picking (for) position. I know. I did that a couple of times, picking for position rather than (best available) player. Every time I did that, it came up and bit me right in the rear end. So, I subscribe to that theory.
"From what I've seen of Rodgers, he wouldn't be a disappointment."
-- Nose tackle Grady Jackson insists he's no longer an unhappy camper.
Still awaiting clearance to practice for the first time after undergoing surgery on his left knee in February, Jackson vowed last week to give the Packers his best effort this season. It's a far cry from Jackson's demand on the eve of camp to team management that he wanted to be cut or traded since it wasn't willing to renegotiate his contract, which expires at the end of the season.
"I'm going to come back and play, give my all, worry about the contract thing after the season," Jackson said. "If I'm here next year, I'm here. If not, I'm not. So, I just have to worry about this season and play ball."
In fact, the mammoth Jackson is determined to have "a Pro Bowl season," which has eluded him his first eight years in the league.
Jackson is hopeful he'll be ready to play in the last preseason game, Sept. 1 at Tennessee.
Having only one game to get ready for the regular season is, according to Jackson, "enough for me. I just have to get out there and play. One game will be fine, just tuning it up and getting ready."
-- B.J. Sander is among the league leaders in the preseason with a punting average of 45.2 yards, having strung together two solid performances. Still, neither Sherman nor general manager Ted Thompson is ready to anoint Sander as the team's punter for the start of the regular season. Sander, after all, is only a year removed from a dubious rookie season in which he ranked 31st in the league with an average of 36 yards per punt in the preseason and didn't kick the entire regular season, though he was on the 53-man roster.
When asked last week whether he believes Sander has graduated to being an NFL-caliber punter, Thompson responded flatly, "No. But, that doesn't mean he isn't. I think he's done a nice job (in the preseason thus far). This is not anything against B.J. or any other punter in the league, but I think you have to see 'em through the course of a little more than a couple weeks in training camp."
Sander kicked well for the second straight outing. He had good hang time on all six of his punts Saturday and averaged 44.3 yards. However, his net average was a meager 28.5 yards, as the Bills gashed the Packers' shoddy coverage unit with five returns totaling 95 yards. Sander made tackles on two of the long runbacks.
Thompson said there are no immediate plans to bring in another punter to compete with Sander, who has been afflicted with tendonitis in his non-kicking right knee. The coaching staff tried to alleviate the problem by limiting Sander to one practice a day during two-a-days, which concluded last week.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It would be nice; that would be exceptional. That's our goal, to get them back as soon as possible. Certainly, we don't want them to go through the preseason without taking any snaps. That's the objective; that's what we're working toward. Hopefully, that will happen." -- Head coach Mike Sherman on injured starting defensive tackles Cletidus Hunt and Grady Jackson.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Adrian Klemm vs. Scott Wells for starting spot at left guard: Where this was an early-camp showdown between veterans Klemm and Grey Ruegamer has given way to the coaches' decision last week to move second-year Wells from backing up center Mike Flanagan to guard. Wells plays bigger than his 6-foot-2, 304-pound frame and has all the gritty, savvy intangibles to unseat Klemm, a free-agent signee from New England. Offensive coordinator Tom Rossley said the battle between the two is "pretty close. Either one of them could become that starter, and we'll be fine."
OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: Mark Roman vs. Earl Little for starting spot at strong safety: Roman seemingly was a slam dunk to hold on to his starting job after a disappointing 2004 season, that is, until he suffered a hamstring injury early last week. Little, an eight-year veteran signed as a free agent from Cleveland, took advantage of the playing time with the starting unit and has made it a fight to the finish the last two weeks of the preseason... Antonio Chatman vs. Terrence Murphy and Andrae Thurman for No. 4 receiver: Chatman, expected to get pushed in the preseason for the receiver spot and his tenuous role as punt returner, stands to win out on both fronts thanks to injuries sustained by rookie Murphy (knee) and Thurman (broken thumb), the latter of whom is playing but is limited with a cast on his left hand.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK: QB Brett Favre. He's the last person on the Packers, and throughout the league for that matter, who needs work in the preseason. Yet, the team's undisputed warrior was one of its few players who warranted a commendable grade in a pitiful 27-7 loss at Buffalo on Saturday. Favre picked up where he left off from his near-perfect, abbreviated performance in the opening exhibition against San Diego by faring as well in a shorter cameo appearance. He completed four of six passes for 41 yards in the game's opening possession, culminating the 13-play, 75-yard excursion with a nifty 12-yard touchdown pass to Ahman Green. Favre, whose passer rating was a superbly efficient 125.7, then traded his helmet in for a cap for the rest of the night.
ROOKIE REPORT: QB Aaron Rodgers (first round) threw his first interception as a pro in extended playing time against Buffalo on Saturday. Pinpoint throws were Rodgers' forte in college at California, but he was mostly off the mark for the second straight preseason outing. He completed only four of nine passes for 21 yards and also took a sack working with the first- and second-string units. Of the four series directed by Rodgers, three ended with punts and the last resulted in the interception on the first play from scrimmage... WR Nick Collins (second round) started for the second straight game at free safety and has all but sewn up the starting job for the regular-season opener. Collins had one tackle and one pass breakup Saturday, playing into the second half and soldiering on with a sprained ankle... WR Terrence Murphy (second round) has been told by the medical staff he could be out four weeks with a sprained MCL in his right knee, an injury sustained in practice last week... CB Mike Hawkins (fifth round) started in place of an injured Al Harris at right cornerback Saturday. Hawkins had two tackles... G Will Whitticker (seventh round) made the start at right guard for the second straight game and appears to be a lock to open the season with the starting unit... LB Kurt Campbell (seventh round) is headed for season-ending IR after undergoing surgery for a torn ACL in his right knee, an injury suffered in the first week of camp.
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