Packers Return to Work Focused on Vikings

After getting a four-day break on their bye weekend, the Green Bay Packers returned to work Monday looking to make up ground in the NFC North, just like the Vikings, while hoping to get some injured players to return to action.

Middle linebacker Nick Barnett spent the team's four-day extended break for the bye in New York City, including taking in the Broadway musical "Chicago" starring Brooke Shields.

"It's different. I don't know if I'm a Broadway musical-type of guy, but it was entertaining," Barnett said Monday, as he and his teammates reconvened for the start of a full work week.

Despite getting off to a horrendous 1-4 start, including four straight losses at the start, the Packers have the likes of Chicago and Detroit within their reach in the hardly entertaining NFC North. The Bears and Lions are the front-runners with lowly 2-3 records, just a game ahead of the Packers and Minnesota.

As Green Bay prepares to make the short trek over to Minneapolis for the teams' first meeting of the season Sunday, a newfound confidence has swept over a Packers team that not long ago was considered to be done for the season.

"You don't want to say it's unfortunate we're 1-4 right now. But, luckily, we are still in the hunt of this division championship," Barnett said.

Put the Packers in almost every other division, they would be looking up at a three-game deficit from first place. The utter mediocrity of the NFC North, though, has the division's reigning three-time champion believing it's as good as any of its woebegone brethren to seize the title nobody seems to covet.

"If anything, we've been lucky in that area. Not lucky in others, but lucky in that area," head coach Mike Sherman said of being only a game out of the lead. "We very easily could be four games back right now. (But) we're not. So, I feel fortunate."

Sherman made sure his players didn't forget what it's like to play hard for 60 minutes and actually be rewarded, which was the case before the bye when they throttled New Orleans 52-3 on Oct. 9 for their first win. He put them through a lively two-hour practice Monday afternoon, the longest post-bye workout in his six years as coach.

"Today was a big practice for us. The challenge today was to come back from the bye and practice fast," Sherman said. "We did a lot of work against each other today for the first hour of practice, just to get the speed of the game back to where they're used to. They haven't had that for a while."

The practice also marked the return of Pro Bowl halfback Ahman Green to the field. He had been out since sustaining a bruised right knee and a strained quadriceps tendon in the same leg during the third quarter of the 32-29 loss at Carolina on Oct. 3.

Green's status for Sunday's game, however, won't be determined until later in the week. It would seem imperative the Packers have Green ready for the Vikings, because they lost top backup Najeh Davenport to a season-ending broken ankle in the last game.

Also on the mend are the Pro Bowl tandem of Bubba Franks (knee) and center Mike Flanagan (sports hernia) and outside linebacker Na'il Diggs, who's out until at least mid-November with a torn MCL.

"The bye week certainly affords you an opportunity to get people healthy. I think, that more than anything, has allowed us to be successful," said Sherman, whose Packers teams have gone a cumulative 33-12 after the bye.

NOTES

  • Head coach Mike Sherman was encouraged by RB Ahman Green's return to practice Monday.

    Sherman, though, wouldn't commit to Green being ready for Sunday's game at Minnesota. The star halfback had been sidelined since suffering a bruised knee and a strained thigh tendon Oct. 3, which forced him to miss the last game.

    "He looked OK," Sherman said after practice Monday. "I'll make a further evaluation on him on Wednesday when we put the pads on."

    Najeh Davenport started in Green's place during the 52-3 rout of New Orleans on Oct. 9. However, Davenport sustained a broken right ankle that ended his season.

    Tony Fisher, who has been serviceable in a third-down role, would make the start Sunday if Green isn't cleared to play.

  • TE Bubba Franks didn't practice Monday and is questionable to play against the Vikings because of a torn MCL in his left knee.

    Coach Mike Sherman said he'll know more about Franks' availability on Wednesday.

    Franks sustained the injury in the Week 2 loss to Cleveland. He missed the subsequent two games, then was activated for the last contest, but only for emergency duty as a No. 3 tight end. Franks was called upon for just two plays, strictly as a blocker.

  • C Mike Flanagan didn't practice Monday as he continues to recover from Oct. 5 surgery to repair a sports hernia.

    Flanagan was hopeful to be ready for Sunday's game, but that could be pushing the envelope with his rehabilitation.

  • The Packers made a swap of running backs on the practice squad Monday, releasing Bobby Purify and signing rookie Sam Gado.

    The 5-foot-10, 226-pound Gado originally signed as an un-drafted free agent out of Liberty with Kansas City in May. He was cut toward the end of the preseason, then was re-signed by the Chiefs and spent the first month of the regular season on the practice squad. He's a native of Nigeria.

    Gado averaged 6.0 yards per carry; rushing for 1,631 yards and 16 touchdowns in 39 games at Liberty.


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