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Driver Leads Young Receivers From New Position


After a season-ending knee injury sidelined Pro Bowl wide receiver Javon Walker, you expected the leader of the wide receiver corps to deliver a passionate speech to elevate the mood of a disheartened team.

The 29-year-old Donald Driver, the eldest Green Bay Packers receiver, did nothing of the sort.

"I didn't have to say anything," Driver said. "Once we found out Javon was out for the reason, everyone picked themselves up. Everyone on their own said: 'this is what we need to do.'"

What they need to do is replace the 89 catches, 1,382 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns Walker accounted for last year. Driver has surpassed 1,000 receiving yards and will play a major role in doing so.

"My expectations have always been high for Driver," head coach Mike Sherman said. "He's a key player on every down and distance."

Driver will replace Walker -- or at least his position. Formerly a split end, Driver becomes the flanker or the feature position among the receivers. The Packers usually move the flanker around a little more than the split end and can use it to dictate coverages.

"We can direct traffic a little bit better at that position," Sherman said.

Having played in the offense for seven years, Driver knows all of the positions. He scoffs at speculation that a position change will affect him.

"A lot of people said I switched positions," he said. "But I've been playing X (flanker) and Z (split end) the whole time."

During last year's regular season and this year's preseason, Driver would move to flanker with Robert Ferguson entering the lineup at split end whenever Walker needed a rest.

Rookie Terrence Murphy has the same kind of versatility. During the organized team activities, he played each of the wide receiver positions.

"If Driver gets tired or Ferg or Chat," he said. "I've got to go in and fill in where I can."

Murphy missed 10 days of training camp practice and the first preseason game with a hip flexor injury. Then he returned for about four days of work mid-August before injuring his right knee on Aug. 17.

Because of the injuries, he has not played in a preseason or regular season game, but the 22-year-old has proven to be a quick study with his playbook. He might have to improve his timing with quarterback Brett Favre, technique and fundamentals, but Murphy has displayed impressive football awareness for a rookie.

"He seems to pick up things fairly quickly," Sherman said. "I'm very confident he knows what to do."

Inactive against the Detroit Lions, Murphy will become the third or fourth receiver on Sunday, according to Sherman.

An alumnus from the same college (Texas A&M University) and the man Murphy affectionately refers to as his uncle, Ferguson, will continue to play split end, but he will see more action as he moves from the No. 3 to No. 2 wide receiver.

Ferguson has sought a starting role since a clothesline tackle by Jacksonville Jaguars safety Donovin Darius on Dec. 19 sidelined him for the remainder of the 2004 season with head and neck injuries.

"It's kind of ironic," Ferguson said. "When I got hurt last year I just knew I was going to have a great year [in 2005]. I didn't know how it was going to happen. And after the first game, I'm thrust into the starting role. It's my time."

Doctors have not yet set a time for Walker to undergo reconstructive surgery. He tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during the third quarter of last Sunday's game versus the Lions while trying to haul in a 55-yard Favre sideline pass. The injury will take eight to 12 months of rehabilitation, and he will have surgery once the substantial swelling subsides.

Without Walker, the Packers may look outside their current crop of players to add depth, but with the skill of Ferguson, Murphy, Driver and Antonio Chatman, they will not seek a wide receiver out of desperation.

"You don't bring one in just to bring one in," Sherman said. "We've worked guys out. We'll continue to work guys out. It's an ongoing process. We want get the best guy and make the best decision."

Favre preached confidence in the receivers on the team.

"We believe they can handle it," he said. "Now it's just a matter of them stepping up and doing it."

Even if the Packers add a new face, they will rely on a young receiving corps, who anxiously await the opportunity to prove themselves.

"I've been hungry," Murphy said.

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