Linebacker Hardy Nickerson has attended his share of training camps, but none of his veteran experience prepared him for the scene at Clarke Hinkle Field when he arrived for his first practice in a Packers uniform Saturday morning.
What he saw was Packers fans, a few thousand of them, lined so densely at the fences that cars making their way down Oneida Street couldn't be seen from the field.
"This is definitely not what I'm used to," said an amazed Nickerson afterward. "This is a treat, this is something special . . . It's almost like a game atmosphere out here."
When he signed his contract back in June, Nickerson noted the Packers' fan following among his reasons for choosing the Green and Gold, another was the team's ability to challenge for a Super Bowl title. Both of those factors had him happy to be back in yet another training camp prepping for his 16th NFL season.
"I think coming into this camp I was really excited," Nickerson said. "I could hardly sleep last night or the night before, just thinking about coming out and playing and wanting to contribute . . . I kind of feel like a rookie all over again."
Although no doubt they would be pleased to hear that the nearly 37-year-old Nickerson is feeling youthful, the Packers are counting on his veteran leadership this season, which became all the more valuable after the recent retirement of LeRoy Butler.
Nickerson said he wouldn't be afraid to be a vocal captain on the field, but that before he would be able to lead, he'd have to demonstrate that the game hasn't passed him by, which considering that he racked up a franchise record 230 tackles for Jacksonville last season might not be all that difficult. For good measure, Nickerson delivered one of the morning practice's most resonating hits after meeting ball carrier Herbert Goodman in the hole.
"Leaders are people who come out every day and prove themselves to their teammates," he said. "First and foremost I have to prove to my teammates that I belong . . . That's my mindset and that's what this training camp is all about for me, coming in and proving to the guys that, hey, I can play and I'm here to help out."
After just one practice, GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman said he liked what he saw out of Nickerson in terms of his ability to read the offense and make plays, however he also continued to praise the performance and attitude of second-year player Torrance Marshall, who was penciled in as the team's starting middle linebacker before Nickerson's arrival.
Ideally, Nickerson's presence will not only help the team this season, but in future years, allowing Marshall some space and time to progress, while learning from a five-time Pro Bowl selection.
For the moment however, the Packers are focused on this season, in which Saturday's full-squad practices were the first of many steps toward their ultimate goal.