Having missed all but two games of the 2005 regular season with injuries to both knees, linebacker Na'il Diggs cannot wait to return to action.
"I'm hungry, man," he said. "I'm real hungry."
Diggs may be able to alleviate those hunger pains this week and return to action against the Atlanta Falcons.
"I'm hopeful we can push that envelope this week and get him ready to go," Head Coach Mike Sherman said.
Diggs sprained the medial collateral ligament in his left knee during training camp on Aug. 8. when a player rolled up on his leg in a pile. He sprained the MCL in his right knee when he banged it on the ground while trying to make a tackle against the Carolina Panthers on Oct. 3
"My previous one was a lot worse than this one," Diggs said. "A self-inflicting injury is a lot less painful than what happened before."
Suffering a similar, though less serious, injury to his left knee two months earlier helped Diggs rehabilitate the torn ligament in his right knee injury. He knew the timetable and how to push his recovery without risking further injury.
"I dealt with it a lot better mentally and physically," he said. "I was able to attack it a lot more easier because I knew what to expect. I knew how I was going to feel. I knew how long it was going to take."
Nicknamed "Nails" for his durability, Diggs had started 62 straight games before missing two games in 2004 with a kidney contusion.
He exhibited the same toughness during his rehabilitation. Diggs received treatment, strengthened his leg and worked on range-of-motion exercises from 7 a.m. to 5 or 6 p.m. at Lambeau Field every day, including weekends and gamedays.
"It was constant," he said.
Diggs practiced last week, and the Packers listed him as questionable but did not activate him for the Nov. 6 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The coaching staff said he had not practiced enough in the various passing and running packages.
"Physically he might have been able to go last week. But holding him back helps him be more available this week," Sherman said. "We would have had to dress six because he hadn't taken enough work in practice to warrant him to play within the context of the game plan."
Although Diggs will play in a new defensive scheme under defensive coordinator Jim Bates and occupy the strongside linebacker position, which he has not played extensively since 2002, he has a good grasp of the defense. He attended meetings and studied his playbook while injured. Diggs said he has a greater knowledge of the defense now than when he missed time during the preseason and season's first two games.
"I'm more comfortable now coming back from this injury than I was after my first one," he said.
The coaching staff will feel a lot more comfortable with Diggs in the lineup. Roy Manning and Paris Lenon have filled in admirably during his absence but do not have Diggs' veteran savvy. He has surpassed 100 tackles in each of the last three years, and his return would boost a ninth-ranked Packers defense.
"It's huge," linebacker Brady Poppinga said. "He's a big leader. He has a lot of experience under his belt. He's a playmaker."
Poppinga's eagerness for the return of the six-year veteran echoes that of Diggs himself.
"I've been running around, practicing," Diggs said. "I feel good. I feel ready."