NFC North Report

The Bears are talking confidently despite the loss of Rex Grossman for three to four months, the Lions are exactly sure on their quarterback either, and the Packers continue to celebrate the bad-weather exploits of their kicker. Get all the news, notes and training-camp battles from the Vikings' NFC North rivals.

CHICAGO BEARS

Confidence cascaded from the Bears' locker room as the wagons began circling following the loss of starting quarterback Rex Grossman.

Backup quarterback Chad Hutchinson, who is now the starter, and third-string rookie Kyle Orton, now the backup, both talked a good game, and so did GM Jerry Angelo and coach Lovie Smith.

Time will tell if their words were prophetic or rhetoric.

"We feel real good about our football team," said Angelo, who made the offseason decision not to pursue a veteran quarterback. "It's a tough blow. I'm not going to sit here and tell you that it isn't. We'll get through it. I feel good about our locker room, I feel good about our coaches, and we're going to move forward."

Outside of the Bears' locker room, there isn't much support for that position, what with Grossman out at least 3-4 months after suffering a fractured ankle early in the second quarter Friday night. While it may be bravado, players insist the Bears can still get it done.

"It's go time," Hutchinson said. "I'm ready for it. It's unfortunate that it happened, but it's a situation that I've been fortunate to have been in before, so I'm ready for it. Experience always helps."

"Pressure?" Hutchinson repeated when asked about it. "None. I have nothing to lose. I'm ready to go out and play. I feel pretty confident about it. That's why my expectations are high. I'm feeling good about the situation; I'm ready to step in."

The Bears finally turned to Hutchinson last season after Grossman had his knee hurt, Jonathan Quinn had his feelings hurt and rookie Craig Krenzel was sacked into submission. Hutchinson went 1-4 as he, too, spent much of his time running away from relentless pressure. He also didn't get the courtesy of taking snaps with the other starters until the week of his first start. Hutchinson has spent a lot more time this spring and summer practicing with the guys he'll be playing with in games.

"My expectations were a lot bigger than what happened," Hutchinson said of the 2004 disaster. "But considering the circumstances, it was the best I could do at the time. When you're running the scout team, it's hard to step in and get the timing. But I've been working with (the starters) every day."

Quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson and offensive coordinator Ron Turner will try not to put Orton in the same difficult position that Hutchinson found himself last season. But their top priority has to be getting Hutchinson ready to run the team.

It's a chance Hutchinson clearly relishes, having had the benefit of a full year in the Bears' system, something he lacked last season, when he wasn't signed until Sept. 28.

"He didn't want anything to happen to Rex," Wilson said of Hutchinson. "He knew what his role was coming in, but he wasn't going to concede anything. Now he's getting an opportunity."

And so is Orton, who doesn't appear awed by his new status.

"I've always been confident," he said. "If I wasn't confident, I wouldn't be playing. I'm confident that if I have to play, then I'll play well. I'm not going to go out there and play bad. I haven't done that for four years in college, and I don't plan on doing it now.

"I feel for Rex, but it's an opportunity for myself to get better and help the team."

Orton completed 7 of his 10 passes for 93 yards Friday night but was intercepted for the second straight game. He connected on 7 of 11 in the opener for 175 yards. Since the Bears hustled Hutchinson out of the Rams game to avoid another injury, Orton entered earlier and faced better talent, which is something he'll have to get used to now.

If Hutchinson and Orton can handle the added responsibility that has been thrust upon them, Grossman's injury won't be so painful for the Bears. If not, Angelo's words will come back to haunt him and the franchise: "If we're contingent on just one player," Angelo said after Grossman's injury, "then obviously we didn't build this team to win."

NOTES

  • The Dolphins scored just three points on their five possessions against the Bears' first-team defense, and none on the first four drives. Four days later the Rams didn't score at all in a quarter against the first-team defense.

    But in the first game, the Bears' only takeaway came on the defense's final play of the game, when the starters were long gone, and they got just one against the Rams.

    "We've got to get more takeaways," said linebacker Brian Urlacher, who had one of the Bears' two sacks in the opener. "That's what we predicate our defense on is takeaways."

    The general consensus around the league is that the Bears' defense could be ready to emerge as an elite unit, which doesn't really count for much, according to Urlacher.

    "We think we're going to be good, and that's all that matters," the four-time Pro Bowler said. "We don't really care what anybody else thinks. We know we're going to be a pretty good team. We've just got to keep guys healthy and keep guys on the field."

  • Wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad wasn't around for the Bears' carousel of quarterbacks last season, but he believes the experience will help them overcome Rex Grossman's loss.

    "This team went through the same things last year when they lost their quarterback, and I think a lot of people got down on that," Muhsin said. "Here's an opportunity to take the same test again, but we all have cheat sheets, we all know exactly what to expect. The thing that we have to do is go out and take the same test that we took last year and pass it."

    Muhammad had 2 catches for 26 yards Friday night and had 4 for 70 yards in two games.

  • The Bears permitted the Rams' high-octane offense just 274 yards, 108 fewer than they allowed in their preseason opener.

    "I was really pleased with how the defense played after giving up a (33-yard run by Steven Jackson)," coach Lovie Smith said. "From there I thought they did some good things."

    After Jackson rushed for 7 and 33 yards on the first two plays of the game, the Bears allowed just 39 rushing yards the remainder of the night.

    But, for the second straight game, the defense forced just one turnover, cornerback Charles Tillman's diving first-quarter interception.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "There's no ‘Why me.' "S--t happens sometimes." — Injured Bears QB Rex Grossman.


    TRAINING CAMP ANALYSIS

    BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Since Eddie Berlin's partially torn groin muscle will sideline him for at least six weeks, there is a chance that someone like unheralded second-year player Carl Ford could sneak onto the roster.

    Ford remains a long shot, but he had 3 catches for 56 yards in the preseason opener, including a 43-yard touchdown. He added a 20-yard catch in Game Two.

    "It's big for him, to get out there in game situations and make plays," offensive coordinator Ron Turner said. "That's what it's all about. You get guys that practice great who don't make plays in games, but it was good to see Carl step up and make some plays. He's got very good hands, he's got good quickness, and he's got pretty good football speed."

    Go-to guy Muhsin Muhammad will be the focus of the passing attack, but it's open competition behind him.

    Justin Gage and Bobby Wade, the Bears' No. 2 and No. 3 receivers, respectively, did not have a single catch between them Monday night against the Dolphins, and Gage was blanked again in the second game, while Wade had one catch for seven yards, and that was in the second half.

    "Some games you have opportunities to make plays, sometimes you don't," Turner said. "But both of them are having real solid camps, and we feel good about both of them."

    After an impressive debut (5 catches, 131 yards) rookie Mark Bradley followed up with four catches for 63 yards but also had two big drops late in the Rams game last Friday night.

    Speedy Bernard Berrian had two catches for 22 yards in the second preseason game after catching three for 65 yards in the opener.

    OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: Why go work at a job when you can still play a game?

    If Marc Edwards' football career ended today, he could live with that. He has already played eight years and 124 games in the NFL, starting 77, and he has a Super Bowl ring from the 2001 season with the New England Patriots. So he could get on with his life and have a full career to reflect on. The 6-foot, 249-pound fullback has already begun preparing for a possible career after football in mutual fund wholesaling, but he isn't in a hurry to change professions.

    "I'm trying to see if there's any gas left in the tank, but I know the end is sooner than later," the 30-year-old Notre Dame graduate said. "I'm getting to the point where it's almost time to move on."

    But not yet. Edwards has started the first two preseason games, even though the free agent wasn't signed until the day before training camp opened.

    Edwards has benefited from an epidemic of injuries. Last year's starter Bryan Johnson is still out after undergoing offseason foot surgery; backup Jason McKie won't be back for a few weeks because of a torn pectoral muscle; and Keith Belton, who backed up Edwards in the opener, was out for Game Two with a sprained ankle. But Edwards is capable of winning a job with the Bears on merit. His familiarity with the West Coast offense, blocking proficiency and veteran experience provide a security blanket for the Bears even in a supporting role.

    Edwards caught three passes for 21 yards in the preseason opener, but his primary role in Ron Turner's offense, just as almost every fullback's is in the West Coast scheme, is to provide an escort through the line for the tailback and keep the quarterback from getting killed. The Bears threw 41 passes against Miami and allowed no sacks.

    PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Evidently, in the case of rookie wide receiver Mark Bradley, first impressions don't count for much.

    During spring minicamps and OTAs (organized team activities), Bradley looked as if he was trying catching the ball wearing brass knuckles. Passes clanked off his hands at an alarming rate. But, when the lights came on last Monday night in the second-round pick's first professional game, he caught everything thrown to him and sometimes did spectacular things after the catch.

    Bradley's 131 receiving yards on five catches set a Hall of Fame Game record that had stood for 35 years.

    "Mark Bradley's going to be a star in this league," since-injured Bears quarterback Rex Grossman said. "He's got an explosive ability after he catches the ball that not a lot of people have. He's a great route runner, has good hands and kind of just has a feel for the game."

    Bradley's second catch, which came on a short Chad Hutchinson pass midway through the second quarter, exemplified his immense athleticism and speed. The 6-foot-1, 200-pounder from Oklahoma took a toss along the sideline, slipped a tackle by a Dolphins cornerback and turned on the speed. By the time a Miami defender collared Bradley, the Bears had a 32-yard pickup, the biggest play in a 71-yard drive that resulted in a 22-yard Nick Novak field goal.

    "I was expecting to come out and make positive plays," he said. "But I wasn't expecting that much of a positive deal."

    In the fourth quarter, Bradley corralled a 43-yard bomb from Kyle Orton despite pass interference call against Miami. On the very next play, Bradley snared an Orton pass over the middle and turned it into a 26-yard gain. Those plays set up Doug Brien's 30-yard field goal, but Bradley wasn't finished. His 16-yard reception on a third-and-4 play kept alive a drive that resulted in Carl Ford's 43-yard TD catch that pulled the Bears within 24-20.

    "Mark Bradley shined all night," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "That's the type of player we pictured him being, and that's a good start for him. Who knows how good he can be."

    Despite two late drops in last Friday night's second preseason game, Bradley had four more catches for 63 yards.

    ROOKIE REPORT: GM Jerry Angelo is encouraged by recent discussions with Eugene Parker, the agent for holdout first-round running back Cedric Benson.

    "We're optimistic it's going to get done, hopefully real soon," Angelo said.

    The Wednesday signing of Braylon Edwards, who was taken third overall, one pick before Benson, usually would be expected to provide an impetus for other negotiations.

    "I would think that it would," Angelo said, "but we'll talk more (Sunday) and we'll see.

  • Even when second-round wide receiver Mark Bradley was dropping as many passes as he was catching in the spring organized team activities, offensive coordinator Ron Turner didn't despair.

    "I know everyone talked about him in the OTAs, and all the drops that he had," Turner said. "But even at that time, even though he was dropping it, you could see he had good hands. It was a just a matter of a lack of confidence or lack of concentration or whatever, but he is getting better all the time. He's got unbelievable speed and burst. He can get to his top speed real fast. He's got a lot of ability."

    Bradley caught 4 passes for 63 yards, but he dropped a potentially game-winning throw at the goalline from Kurt Kittner with 1:55 remaining. On the next play, Bradley dropped a pass over the middle that would have provided a first down.

  • Fourth-round quarterback Kyle Orton moved up to No. 2 on the depth chart after starter Rex Grossman suffered a fractured ankle in the second preseason game last Friday night. Orton has completed 14 of 21 passes for 268 yards.

  • WR Airese Currie continues to do some work on the side as he rehabs from offseason foot surgery.


    DETROIT LIONS

    At 35 — after six NFL seasons and five in the CFL — quarterback Jeff Garcia can talk the talk.

    But it remains to be seen if he will get a chance to walk the walk after being signed as the backup to Lions quarterback Joey Harrington.

    Although he is coming off a dismal season with the Cleveland Browns (three wins in 10 starts, a touchdown-to-interception ration of 10-to-9 and a passer rating of 76.7), Garcia has made it clear that he still considers himself a starting quarterback.

    Many Lions fans — frustrated with Harrington's 14-30 record as a three-year starter — are ready to accept him as the team's quarterback and coach Steve Mariucci seems to have more good to say about Garcia than Harrington.

    But Garcia was not impressive in the Lions' preseason opener — completing seven of 11 passes for 52 yards and throwing a costly interception — and Harrington showed no sign of crumbling under the pressure of his more experienced backup, completing nine passes in nine attempts for 100 yards in the 10-3 loss to the New York Jets.

    Garcia might have been handicapped by the fact he was playing with the second offensive unit but it is expected he will get a chance to work with the Lions' promising young receivers - Roy Williams and Charles Rogers - to show what he's capable of doing.

    Whatever happens, there is little doubt in Garcia's mind that he can still be the quarterback he was when he was playing for Mariucci in San Francisco a few years ago.

    "There are some guys that don't mind sitting on the side collecting a check," Garcia said. "I prefer to earn my check. It's just one of those things.

    "I'm not here to create controversy. I'm just here to help the position get better.

    "I think everybody here would like to see Joey succeed. You'd like to see the guy really come out on top. But if he, for some reason, can't do it, if he's struggling ... well, then here I am."

    Like so many times earlier in his career, Garcia has a challenge ahead of him but he says he's still up to it.

    "I'm going to show this team - my teammates, my coaches - that I'm a starting quarterback," he said. "That's all than I can say I'm here to do."

    NOTES

  • Hall of Fame quarterback and current Fox commentator Terry Bradshaw visited the Lions training camp in Allen Park recently to do some interviews but, along the way, he had some encouragement for two Lions players - wide receiver Charles Rogers and quarterback Joey Harrington.

    Both Rogers and Harrington have experienced a rough ride in the early years of their NFL careers, and Bradshaw says he can relate. Like Rogers, he suffered collarbone fractures and, like Harrington, he was subjected to criticism by the hometown fans.

    "I just talked to Charles Rogers about his collarbone because I had broken mine twice, really bad," Bradshaw said. "Had it operated on, pinned, letting him know."

    Bradshaw said he also advised Rogers on the right way to protect himself from doing additional damage to his twice-broken collarbone. The injury usually happens, he said, because a player lands hard on the elbow, transferring the impact to the collarbone, rather than being struck directly on the collarbone.

    "You practice protecting it early, get your confidence so it doesn't interfere with catching the ball and doing the things you do," Bradshaw said.

    Bradshaw said he can also relate to Harrington when he thinks back to his early seasons with the Steelers.

    "Everybody's screaming for your throat," Bradshaw said. "It gets in your head. It gets in there bad."

    Bradshaw said he advised Harrington to get mad and play through it.

    "For me, it was just good to hear of another guy who struggled and made it through it," Harrington said.

  • For virtually his entire 10-year NFL career, fullback Cory Schlesinger has been considered the Lions' indestructible man.

    He played special teams, he was the lead blocker for the running backs and he hit with such force that the Lions' equipment men routinely had to change his bent face masks.

    The Lions are hoping now that he will be quick in recovering from a broken right fibula suffered in their 10-3 preseason loss to the New York Jets at the Meadowlands.

    "Six to eight weeks," coach Steve Mariucci said. "That's a tough one on us."

    If Schlesinger is able to recovery quickly, the Lions feel he might be ready to return for the Oct. 2 game against Tampa Bay, a week after their bye.

    "He will be back," Mariucci said. "He will play most of the games this season. If you're going to break it, break it in the first preseason and not the last or during the year. We'll have him for a majority of the year."

    Schlesinger said the injury occurred when he was trying to get around the corner and deliver a block.

    "I think Kevin (Jones) got held up back there and the guy came up the field faster, at a different angle," Schlesinger said. "I just stuck my leg out there to try and trip him up. One good shot and he got me pretty good. I felt I got kicked in the shin more than anything."

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "Eventually, here's what you have to do: You have to get so mad at (yourself) - whatever it is that forces you to get internal and get strong - you have to take it on yourself to say, ‘You're not going to run me out of here, I'll prove you wrong.' If that's what you have to do, then that's what you do. I know I did it, I got so angry." — Hall of Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw on his advice to Lions quarterback Joey Harrington.


    TRAINING CAMP ANALYSIS

    BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Earl Holmes vs. Teddy Lehman for the middle linebacker job. This is a battle Lehman isn't likely to win but it's one that gives the Lions good depth at the MLB position. Holmes, in his 10th NFL season, has the experience and run-stopping ability the Lions need inside but Lehman's speed gives them an additional element.

    OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: Casey FitzSimmons seems to have locked up the backup TE job behind Marcus Pollard but the competition is on for a No. 3 TE. Undrafted rookie Jason Randall has the size to handle blocking assignments and the Lions signed Justin Swift last week, replacing Leonard Stephens in the competition. Swift caught a 16-yard pass in the opening preseason game. ... The competition for the backup CB jobs remains strong. Youngsters Keith Smith and Stanley Wilson are battling veterans Andre Goodman, Chris Cash and R.W. McQuarters for roster spots.

    PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Quarterback Joey Harrington has been a target of fan displeasure after going 14-30 as a starter in his first three NFL seasons but he was a perfect 9-for-9 and 100 yards in the Lions preseason opener against the Jets, giving no indication he might be ready to yield the job to veteran backup Jeff Garcia.

    ROOKIE REPORT: First-round pick WR Mike Williams is the No. 4 receiver behind Roy Williams, Charles Rogers and Kevin Johnson, playing primarily at split end and as a slot receiver. He has been steady in his development, although has not been spectacular. ... Second-round pick DT Shaun Cody is working with the No. 2 defensive line group and got extensive playing time in the opening preseason game. ... Third-round pick CB Stanley Wilson is being used on several special teams and is getting experience as the No. 3 LCB, an indication he will be on the 53-man roster. ... Fifth-round pick QB Dan Orlovsky played most of the second half of the preseason opener and is expected to go into the season as the No. 3 QB. ... Sixth-round pick DE Bill Swancutt is playing behind James Hall and Kalimba Edwards at RDE and got extensive playing time in the preseason opener. ... Sixth-round pick OLB Johnathan Goddard is being used on several special teams to take advantage of his speed and athletic ability.

    INJURY REPORT: RB Cory Schlesinger suffered a broken right fibula and is expected to require 6-8 weeks to recover.


    GREEN BAY PACKERS

    Though it doesn't count in the team standings and won't boost the already-superior individual marksmanship, the Packers started the season on the right foot. As in the right foot of kicker Ryan Longwell.

    The ninth-year veteran drilled a 53-yard field goal with 33 seconds left in the fourth quarter to decide a 10-7 preseason win over San Diego last Thursday.

    Longwell, only 30 years old, is the Packers' all-time points leader with 964, 141 more than runner-up and Hall of Famer Don Hutson. A good amount of Longwell's unrivaled success stems from his uncanny ability to weather the nasty conditions that typically prey on Green Bay not long after Labor Day.

    The latest testament of Longwell's weatherproof abilities occurred in the face of a downpour at Lambeau Field in the exhibition opener.

    Chargers counterpart Nate Kaeding, perhaps still unnerved by his missed shot at a game-winning field goal in the AFC wild-card loss to the New York Jets, misfired on three attempts in a span of six minutes in the fourth quarter, leaving the score deadlocked at 7-7.

    While Kaeding was left standing shellshocked and drenched on the sideline, Longwell calmly boomed his only field-goal try of the game inside the right upright and over the crossbar.

    "I (aimed) that thing 4 feet inside the left upright, and that's exactly where it started," said Longwell, crediting new holder B.J. Sander for getting the wet football placed perfectly on the saturated ground.

    In sharp contrast to the fallout for Kaeding, there's been a positive carryover effect from last season for Longwell. He became the first kicker since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger to connect on four game-winning field goals in the final minute of the fourth quarter in the same season.

    Two of those clutch kicks came at Lambeau late in the season, when temperatures were below 50 and the winds were whipping inside the bowl-shaped stadium.

    Mike Sherman, in his sixth year as head coach, has been around long enough to know what a game-changing asset he has at his disposal with Longwell, incidentally a West Coast native.

    "I don't want to say too much about him. He says enough about himself," a smiling, yet grateful Sherman said after Thursday's game. "I let him do the talking."

    The University of California-educated Longwell figures to do a lot more talking in an attempt to drum up league wide support for himself that has been peculiarly lacking in recent years. Longwell has yet to be selected to a Pro Bowl, never mind that he ranks fourth all-time among NFL kickers for career accuracy with a field-goal percentage of 82.4.

    The mark is better in games at home, where Longwell has made 106 of 126 attempts, or 84.1 percent. Opposing kickers have made only 73.4 percent of their attempts in games against the Packers at Lambeau since Longwell's rookie season in 1997.

    "I fought my darnedest to prove you guys (the media) that this ain't a dome and this ain't San Diego to kick," said Longwell, in the final year of his contract. "So, when a guy comes here (like Kaeding last week), this isn't San Diego. You're not kicking in California. This is August, which is our good weather.

    "You never want to see a guy struggle; you never want to see him do that," added Longwell, touching on Kaeding's woes. "But, at the same time, anytime you can prove your worth, you have to seize the opportunity, and we had a good one."

    NOTES

  • An off-season devoid of throwing the football in the team's two minicamps and filled with working out religiously with a personal trainer at home in Mississippi evidently was the right prescription for quarterback Brett Favre.

    The slimmed-down 35-year-old, who reported to camp weighing 217, looked like the three-time league MVP of the mid- to late 1990s in his 2005 debut Thursday. Playing the first 1 1/2 quarters, Favre completed nine of 10 passes for 91 yards and a dazzling efficiency rating of 137.9.

    Favre capped his brief outing by directing a 12-play, 80-yard drive that culminated with a 23-yard touchdown pass to a leaping Donald Driver. Favre was 7-of-8 passing for 64 yards, including an 8-yard completion to Antonio Chatman on a fourth-and-4 play in Chargers territory.

    In all, Favre hooked up with eight different receivers on passes.

    "It's the best start he's had since I've been here in the preseason," Sherman said. "We usually knock the kinks out a little bit (with him early in the preseason). But, he did a pretty good job (Thursday). It's as good as I can remember."

  • Conversely, it was mostly a forgettable night for Favre's trio of backups.

    All eyes in the crowd of 69,611 were fixated on the debut of No. 1 draft pick Aaron Rodgers, anointed Favre's heir apparent.

    Rodgers relieved Favre in the second quarter and ran the offense for four series until the midway point of the fourth quarter. All of the possessions ended with the Packers punting, including three three-and-outs.

    Rodgers completed only two of six passes for 7 yards. He was sacked twice, one caused by getting tangled up with third-string center Chris White as Rodgers retreated after taking the snap. Rodgers also had to leave the game one play into a series late in the first half because of technical difficulties with the radio inside his helmet, which didn't allow him to hear the plays being called in from the sideline.

    "It wasn't the best," Rodgers said of his first time out. "My helmet conked out twice. I got stepped on and fell down. It was embarrassing."

    Craig Nall, who wasn't supposed to play in the game, stepped in for Rodgers during the faulty transmission-interrupted series in the second quarter, which also resulted in a three-and-out.

    J.T. O'Sullivan finished the game and was only slightly more productive than Rodgers, going 4-of-8 for 24 yards.

  • The No. 1 defense, minus four starters because of injury, shut out the Chargers in three series that carried over to the opening minute of the second quarter.

    First-year coordinator Jim Bates kept some of his starters on the field for the remainder of the opening half, which ended with the Chargers not producing any points in a total of six possessions.

    As much as that was an accomplishment for a beleaguered unit that ranked 25th in total defense last season, there was cause for concern. The Packers allowed a Chargers rushing attack, minus star LaDainian Tomlinson, to churn out an average of 5.1 yards per carry in the opening 30 minutes. Unheralded second-year Michael Turner started in place of Tomlinson and racked up 42 yards in six first-half carries.

    Turner finished with eight rushes for 70 yards as the Chargers totaled 125 yards on the ground.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "No one is saying we're a finished product by any stretch of the imagination. We're still a work in progress. ... If they keep giving effort, I think we'll keep getting better. I think we'll be better against the Bills (on Saturday) than we were this (last) week." — Sherman on the uneven play of the defense, particularly the starting group, in the first preseason game.

    TRAINING CAMP ANALYSIS

    BATTLE OF THE WEEK: William Whitticker vs. Matt O'Dwyer and Atlas Herrion for starting job at right guard. Whitticker, a rookie taken in the seventh round out of Michigan State, has shot up the depth chart from No. 3 to No. 1 in the last week. The coaching staff has been wowed by the 6-foot-5, 338-pound Whitticker's combination of imposing size with deft hands and nimble feet and rewarded him with a start in the preseason opener. Whitticker may remain in the starting lineup for the game at Buffalo on Saturday. O'Dwyer, an 11th-year veteran signed as a free agent this year, hurt himself with two penalties (false start, holding) in the second half Thursday.

    OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: Adrian Klemm vs. Grey Ruegamer for the starting job at left guard. Head coach Mike Sherman would like to have the both guard spots settled after the Buffalo game, so workhorse Ruegamer could make things interesting with a solid showing this weekend. ... With the release of Freeman, fellow veteran free-agent signee Earl Little and rookie Marviel Underwood remain as the only challengers to unseat veteran incumbent Mark Roman and rookie Nick Collins for the starting safety spots.

    PLAYER OF THE WEEK: P B.J. Sander. So far, one year has made quite a difference, positively no less, for the embattled third-round draft pick of 2004. Sander turned the jeers of Packers fans into cheers with an impressive preseason debut Thursday. He averaged 46 yards (41.1 net) with seven punts on a tough, rainy night for kicking. His worst punt turned out to be his longest, with a mishit out to the left taking a nice roll and covering 53 yards. "Sometimes, it's better to be lucky than good," said Sander, whose fate of not kicking in the regular season last year was sealed when he shanked a punt 5 yards in the preseason finale. Sander is the only punter on the roster, though he hasn't secured the job. Still, he helped himself with an ideal hold on Ryan Longwell's game-winning, 53-yard field goal in the final minute of the game last week.

    ROOKIE REPORT: QB Aaron Rodgers (first round) seeks better results in his second preseason go-around. Rodgers is penciled in to work second again in the quarterback rotation at Buffalo, following Favre. ... S Nick Collins (second round) was caught up in the moment of making an easy interception in the first quarter of the win over San Diego. He made the pick with no receiver in the vicinity 6 yards deep in the end zone and, reminiscent of former Packers safety Darren Sharper's antics, brought the ball out to the Green Bay 13-yard line. Sherman later lectured Collins on avoiding a repeat runback. ... CB Mike Hawkins (fifth round) was beat on a post route by Chargers receiver Willie Quinnie on a 34-yard touchdown pass from Philip Rivers in the third quarter. Hawkins regrouped and totaled four tackles. ... DE Michael Montgomery (sixth round) was third on the team in the game with five tackles, highlighted by a 10-yard sack of Cleo Lemon in the final seconds of the fourth quarter. ... WR Craig Bragg (sixth round) didn't have a catch Thursday but auditioned for the role of punt returner in the second half and had a team-best return of 10 yards.


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