Barnett Returns To Practice Field

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Only hours after signing a multi-year contract, Green Bay Packers rookie linebacker Nick Barnett was at Clarke Hinkle Field taking part in training camp practices Sunday.

But while the two 75-minute workouts will go down as Barnett's first official appearances of the summer, they weren't his introduction to training camp.

It seems not even an unsigned contract could keep Barnett away Saturday, when Packers rookies and selected veterans kicked things off with an afternoon practice. So rather than imagine what he was missing, Barnett decided to see for himself.

He drove to the Packers' practice facilities, parked his car at a gas station south of Clarke Hinkle Field and watched. That is, until fans gathered along the fence in front of him and he was forced to relocate to the north side of the field.

"How did that story get out?" Barnett asked in amazement when questioned by the Wisconsin media after Sunday's practice. "It was supposed to be low key ...

"Football is like my love. She left me for the day, so I had to stalk her a little bit. I'm not a stalker, but I was across the street stalking (football)."

Barnett's lengths to watch Saturday's practice are indicative of the reason he was taking part in the action Sunday.

Only the fourth first-round draft pick of 2003 to sign his contract, Barnett's negotiations were slowed by the Packers' early report date -- consequence of the extra preseason game against the Kansas City Chiefs -- which made it difficult to slot his salary according to the rest of his draft class.

Thus, Barnett was in camp Sunday, mostly on time, largely because he couldn't have it any other way.

"I didn't want to miss one day," Barnett said. "Unfortunately that occurred, but I'm just happy that my agent and (Packers vice president of player finance Andrew Brandt) put in that work and got me out here."

Barnett's arrival pleased GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman as well.

Due to an NFL rule that limits rookie participation until the end of an athlete's college term, Barnett was forced to sit out the June mini-camp, meaning that he hadn't participated in a Packers practice since the team closed its post-draft mini-camp, May 4.

"I'm excited to see what he can do," Sherman said between practices Sunday. "I think I know what he can do, that's why he's here, but I don't think the fact that he missed the last mini-camp will have any factor on him. He's studying and he'll get caught up fairly quickly."

For the Packers to be successful, he'll have to. Following the suspension by the league of Torrance Marshall, which will sideline the third-year pro for the first month of the regular season, the Packers have even less depth at linebacker than before.

Currently, Barnett is listed on the depth chart as the team's starting middle linebacker, alongside Na'il Diggs at the weak side and Hannibal Navies on the strong side. He'll likely enjoy every opportunity during training camp to prove worthy of the No. 1 role, but making Barnett into a game-ready player by the season opener has become more of a priority than previously anticipated.

If Barnett doesn't work out in the middle, he'll likely move to the weak side, which would result in Diggs retaining his strong side position from 2002.

While the Packers' greatest need is at middle, personally, Barnett doesn't care where he's used within the linebacker schemes, so long as he gets in the action.

"I feel comfortable anywhere," he said. "I really don't have any expectations right now ... Wherever they put me, I'm going to play and just play hard."

The first step was just getting on the field.

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