"Family Night" Resembles Regular Season Game


The Lambeau Field crowd whooped and hollered as Packers linebacker Ray Thompson blitzed through the B gap toward the quarterback. Instead of drilling the Bills player between the numbers, he let up.

"At that point," he said. "I realized it was a scrimmage."

Other than the thud rules dictating linemen could hit each other but not the quarterbacks, Friday night's "Family Night" scrimmage at Lambeau Field between the Buffalo Bills and the Green Bay Packers seemed like a regular-season game.

The crowd set a Family Night attendance record with 62,492 fans, and many lined the streets more than two hours before the start of the practice session. Chants of "Go Pack Go!" reverberated around the stadium.

"When I ran onto the field, the juices were going," said quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who attended the University of California, Berkeley. "This is what I was missing in college. This atmosphere and the love that people have for football around here is unbelievable."

The scrimmage also served as a good test for a Packers defense still learning defensive coordinator Jim Bates' new attacking defense. The Bills went right at a Packers run defense ranked 27th in the league last year. They rushed the ball 30 times for 116 yards.

The first team defense bottled up Bills running back Willis McGahee, limiting him to 32 yards on 12 carries. Linebacker Na'il Diggs dropped him for a four-yard loss early in the scrimmage.

"They were flying to the ball, doing a great job tackling," McGahee said.

Although the Packers' defense calls for the middle linebacker to sweep around and make most of the plays, the rest of the defensive line and linebacking corps, particularly Diggs, stepped up.

"I didn't even get to make that many plays," middle linebacker Nick Barnett said.

The Packers did have trouble containing backup running backs Shaud Williams and Lionel Gates, who ran three times for 29 yards and four times for 28 yards respectively.

"We're nowhere near where we need to be," Barnett said. "We still have a lot of work to do."

Barnett said the defense can improve its timing and communication.

Although the officials called offensive holding on the play, wide receiver Lee Evans burned them on a reverse early in the game.

"We hadn't gameplanned that," Barnett said.

With injuries to cornerbacks Joey Thomas (calf) and Al Harris (quadriceps), rookie cornerback Mike Hawkins started on Friday and again demonstrated his raw potential with good coverage for the most part.

He read a J.P. Losman pass to fullback Daimon Shelton and jumped the route. Hawkins dropped the ball but forced an incompletion.

"I think he took advantage of the time," Packers head coach Mike Sherman said. "He does some good things. He has to be more consistent. He makes some big plays, and then he gives up some things he shouldn't give up."

On offense the Packers emphasized the pass, throwing on 30 of their 51 plays. The highlights occurred during two goal line drills where quarterback Brett Favre hit tight end Ben Steele for touchdowns.

The 15-year-veteran, who completed 7-of-13 passes for 39 yards and three touchdowns, threw two perfect passes to Steele.

"That's why he's the man," Steele said.

Favre hit Antonio Chatman, who returned a punt 34 yards earlier in the scrimmage, for another score.

Running back Ahman Green played sparingly. He rushed three times for 11 yards, but his presence set up a touchdown to Steele. The Bills' defense bit hard on a play-action fake to him.

As well as Favre played, Aaron Rodgers took a step back after performing brilliantly during Thursday night's joint scrimmage.

The Bills' defense sacked him three times and limited him to 1-of-7 attempts for eight yards. Practicing in such an intense environment, however, will only help Rodgers settle into the quarterback position.

The rookie quarterback received more action than he expected, as he took snaps against Buffalo's first-string defense, which ranked second in the league last year.

"It was a very good learning experience for me," he said. "You can learn from your mistakes and improve."

The offensive line did no favors for Rodgers or any of the quarterbacks, allowing eight sacks.

"We weren't real good at that," Sherman said. "It was tough to evaluate our quarterbacks because they didn't get a fair shake on things."

Because Bates' scheme does not emphasize the blitz as much as the Bills', the offense has not been exposed to that type of defense enough during practice.

"Our defense isn't a big pressure defense," Sherman said.

A tougher exam will follow next week when the contact goes from thud to live as the Packers host the San Diego Chargers in their first preseason game on Thursday, Aug. 11.

"I need to get that first hit under my belt," Rodgers said. "Thursday will be a good test."

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