Backup tight end Tory Humphrey was medically cleared for full duty this week for the first time since the opening practice of training camp last year, and he's not wasting any time getting back into the swing of things.
On Wednesday, Humphrey made two nice catches over the middle from Aaron Rodgers during team (11-on-11) segments of practice. Playing with the starters in double-tight end sets, he ran his routes and caught the ball smoothly, hardly looking like a player who hadn't practiced against defensive foes for better than 10 months, when he suffered a nasty broken lower leg on the first day of training camp last July.
"It's been a long time," Humphrey said. "I got some work in (individual workouts) running routes and stuff, but it's good to get back out there against the defense."
Humphrey made his first impression in 2006 as a special teams contributor, and after a very productive offseason heading into training camp, was in the middle of a wide-open competition for the starting tight end spot.
But the injury abruptly ended that opportunity, and after a long and arduous rehab, he was ready this past March for another offseason program. He hasn't been held back workout-wise, but he's been limited in practice, with full clearance for team drills the last hurdle.
This week has been a triumphant return with the plays he's made in practice. His first big catch from Rodgers on Wednesday came when the protection scheme picked up both linebacker A.J. Hawk and safety Nick Collins blitzing, and Humphrey was open deep over the middle. But even with the early success, Humphrey did say he'll limit himself as needed while working his way back.
"I feel 100 percent, but right now just getting back into it, I don't want to get too high or push it too far," he said. "But I feel pretty good."
The Packers have always been intrigued by Humphrey's athletic ability for a 6-foot-2, 250-pounder, and his well-rounded skills as a blocker and pass-catcher have the club waiting to see just what he can do when fully healthy. With Donald Lee fully entrenched as the starter, Humphrey is competing with third-round draft pick Jermichael Finley as well as non-drafted free agents Mike Peterson, Joey Haynos and Evan Moore for a primary backup and special teams role.
A player with his injury history - he also hurt his hamstring in 2006 and landed on injured reserve for the final seven games - might not find other teams quite so patient, but the Packers saw Humphrey here all last season working hard to recover, and they're going to give him his shot.
"It has been a long road back for him and he has done a great job from the standpoint of being here all of the time, throughout the season, throughout his rehab, and he looks good," Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. "He is a unique player that I was very high on last year. It was great to see Tory back out there."
Humphrey is certainly glad he's made it this far, but when asked if this was his happiest day, he replied his happiest day will be when he plays in the first game of 2008.
His last contest came on Nov. 12, 2006, against Minnesota, and if he's out there for the season opener against the Vikings this year, it will mean he'll have made the 53-man roster and stayed healthy enough to make an impact on the team.
"I just want to build off of what I did last offseason and stay healthy and just get on the field," he said.
"I don't think about the past, I'm just trying to move forward, get past the injuries and just keep going."