Game Notes: Barnett, Matthews Make Successful '09 Debuts

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - It had been a long time coming for both players, but linebackers Nick Barnett and Clay Matthews each got to see their first game action of 2009 on Thursday in Tennessee, and both emerged encouraged and in good shape. - More Packers-Titans Game Center

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - It had been a long time coming for both players, but linebackers Nick Barnett and Clay Matthews each got to see their first game action of 2009 on Thursday in Tennessee, and both emerged encouraged and in good shape.

"It was great to have them out there," Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. "I mean you definitely felt their presence, and I thought they definitely made an impact when they were on the field."

Barnett, who hadn't played since tearing the ACL in his knee last November, got his first taste of the new 3-4 defense from his inside linebacker spot, and he felt things went smoothly. He was credited with two tackles and didn't report any glaring assignment errors while playing most of the first half.

More importantly, Barnett reported no problems with his surgically repaired knee and declared himself ready for the Sept. 13 season opener against Chicago.

"It was strong -- strong enough to run, strong enough to push, strong enough to play football," Barnett said. "My mind wasn't on it.

"I think I was confident in my knee and the work I put in in the offseason. I didn't really mentally think about it as much. You say (it's) in the back of your mind, but (it's) not really in the back of your mind, because I put the work in during practice. My thing is, 'How's it feeling today?' I thought it felt great when I went out there to warm up, so I wasn't thinking about it during the game at all."

Earlier this week, McCarthy indicated that he needed to see Barnett in game action before declaring him a starter for Week 1. With the strong training camps fellow inside linebackers Brandon Chillar and Desmond Bishop have put together, there's been media speculation that Barnett's starting spot isn't secure.

Barnett hopes he put any such doubts to rest and said he's not worried about the starting lineup, though he acknowledged the final decision is out of his hands.

"I'm definitely ready," he said. "We'll see how things go. The coaches definitely have some tough decisions to make. However it goes, I'm sure we'll put the best guys on the field, and hopefully everybody can get on the field and make plays."

From a personal standpoint, Barnett was just glad to be one of the guys on the field again after a long and arduous rehab dating back to last winter.

"It seemed like forever before this was going to come around," he said. "I got hurt nine months ago, so it's been working out, rehab stuff, and finally being able to actually play football has been a tremendous joy. It was fun out there. I just focused and executed my responsibilities. Obviously a regular-season game is a whole different monster, so I look forward to that."

So does Matthews, who was sidelined for the first three preseason games with a nagging hamstring problem. The first-round draft pick out of USC hadn't been in a game since the Rose Bowl last January to conclude his college career, and he entered after the first defensive series and played the rest of the first half at outside linebacker.

"I definitely missed my fair share of camp," said Matthews, who also had two tackles. "That's why I'm trying to get out here, get as many plays as I can, and show what I'm capable of doing. I would like to think they know what I bring to the table, but at the same time I have to prove it day in and day out."

Expected to challenge incumbent Brady Poppinga for the starting spot opposite Aaron Kampman, Matthews had no issues with his hamstring in the game and expects to be ready for the season opener as well.

"The only thing I need to improve on is my physical conditioning," he said. "But other than that I feel great, and it's very encouraging going into the season."

Making do

A rash of injuries in the secondary left the Packers with a makeshift group out there for most of the second half. Safety Anthony Smith took a blow to the head and cornerback Brandon Underwood suffered a shoulder stinger in the first half. Then cornerback Pat Lee hyper-extended his knee on a 41-yard kickoff return early in the third quarter.

So for the rest of the game, wide receiver Brett Swain stepped in to play cornerback, while reserve corner Joe Porter moved over to safety. The other two defensive backs were cornerback Trevor Ford and safety Jarrett Bush, and the Packers couldn't use any nickel or dime alignments.

"It brought back a lot of memories from high school playing both ways," said Swain, who has at least some familiarity with tackling at the pro level because of his work on the special teams coverage units. He also has played cornerback at jog-through speed in practice on the "look" team.

"Being a practice-squad player, you have to be able to bounce around, ... be ambidextrous, I guess. I didn't feel too (un)comfortable out there. They gave me a couple signs on the sidelines and I was able to get in there."

The Titans didn't really go after Swain to try to exploit his inexperience at the position, but they did throw one swing pass to his side in the fourth quarter. Receiver Phillip Morris broke through Swain's tackle attempt, but Swain slowed him up enough that he was brought down after a gain of only 5 yards.

"I felt like if I just kept my depth and stayed on my receiver, I could do the job," Swain said. "They came to my side one time and I just tried to get him down as fast as I could, but other than that, it wasn't too bad."

Holding his own

Punter Jeremy Kapinos, who became the only punter on the roster when Durant Brooks was released at the beginning of the week, took a good step toward solidifying his hold on the job in the preseason finale.

Kapinos punted five times for a solid 52.2-yard gross average and a 38.8-yard net average, with two touchbacks and two inside the 20-yard line. In the second quarter, Kapinos had a booming 60-yarder that Lee nearly downed inside the 5, but it bounced past him for a touchback.

The other touchback was a 54-yard punt that didn't have a chance to be downed, so Kapinos got only a 34-yard net on that one. On his two inside the 20, one was fair-caught at the 9 for a net of 41, and the other was caught at the 8 and returned to the 14 for a net of 46.

{sportsad300}A new perspective

Because he wanted to watch and evaluate players more closely, McCarthy did not call the offensive plays against the Titans, turning the duty over to offensive coordinator Joe Philbin up in the coaches' box.

Philbin had previously called plays in the Pro Bowl following the 2007 season, when the Packers' coaches served as the staff for the NFC squad.

The waiting game

Final roster cuts are due to the league by 5 p.m. Friday, and several players on the bubble can only await their fate.

A lot of attention will be paid to the final roster decisions in the offensive backfield, where the Packers have three fullbacks (Quinn Johnson, Korey Hall and John Kuhn) worth keeping and several backup tailbacks (DeShawn Wynn, Kregg Lumpkin, Tyrell Sutton) who also have produced. But there's not likely to be room for everyone, though the health status of No. 2 halfback Brandon Jackson could play into the final calls.

"It's a waiting game," said Lumpkin, who scored the Packers' only touchdown on Thursday and finished with nine carries for 34 yards. "You just have to be patient and see what your outcome is.

"You can never do enough. You can always improve on everything. You just have to wait for that phone call and see what the outcome is."

Sutton led the team in rushing Thursday with 37 yards and for the preseason as a whole with 191. The non-drafted rookie free agent showed he probably belongs at the NFL level somewhere.

"That's the thing I'm most proud of," Sutton said. "I can actually live the dream I've had since I was six or seven years old."

Injury/participation update

In addition to Smith, Underwood and Lee, the Packers also lost nose tackle B.J. Raji to an ankle injury in the first half on Thursday. McCarthy indicated he didn't think it was serious, though more will be known over the weekend when all injured players are evaluated further.

Veteran cornerbacks Al Harris and Charles Woodson were healthy scratches for the Packers. Remaining out due to injury and not suiting up were Jackson (ankle), safeties Charlie Peprah (knee) and Aaron Rouse (hamstring), cornerback Will Blackmon (quad), receiver Greg Jennings (head), and defensive end Justin Harrell (back).

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