Tight end Bubba Franks didn't get much chance to play against the Bears last year, and it doesn't sit well that Chicago swept the season series while he was out.
Franks, who never missed a game in his career until 2005, took a big hit from linebacker Lance Briggs on an incomplete pass on the Packers' first possession of the first game with Chicago last December. It came just one week after absorbing an even more damaging blow from Philadelphia safety Brian Dawkins that sent Franks to the hospital for x-rays.
The collision with Briggs turned out to be Franks' last in 2005. He left the game and then missed the final four games of the season, including the rematch on Christmas Day at Lambeau Field when the Bears clinched the NFC North title.
"I've been waiting for this game for a whole off-season," Franks said. "This was the last game I played in last year, the first one this year. There's something to say about that. We'll see."
Franks has four touchdown catches in his career, tied for his highest against any single opponent. Also, two of his top five single-game reception totals have come against the Bears (five catches on Oct. 1, 2000, and six catches on Dec. 1, 2002).
But more important than the opponent he's facing is the fact that Franks wants to get back on the field enjoying the good health that allowed him to play every game in the first five years of his career.
"I'm ready to get it on now," Franks said. "I'm kind of excited."
Punt returns will get attention
Special teams coordinator Mike Stock confirmed on Thursday that defensive back Charles Woodson will be the Packers' No. 1 punt returner for the season opener. Rookie receiver Greg Jennings will be the second option.
Woodson has been listed as the top punt returner on the depth chart all summer, but he got only one chance to return a punt in the preseason, a 3-yard effort at San Diego nearly a month ago.
"He's the punt returner until we see what happens," Stock said. "He really hasn't had any opportunities at all. He's been the guy we would like to see do it."
On the other side, the Bears will feature prized rookie Devin Hester as their punt returner. Hester was drafted in the second round out of Miami almost solely for the purpose of improving the Bears' return game, which fumbled several punts in 2005.
He displayed his speed and shifty running in the preseason, finishing second in the league with a 22.8-yard average, including returns of 41 and 54 yards.
"He can make things happen," Stock said. "It's not always where it's designed to go, and he can still get the job done. Very, very, very elusive guy. To knock him down we're going to have to make sure we wrap up and gang-tackle the guy.
"The other thing is don't kick it down the middle, where he has a full field to take the ball and run. Make him go side to side, make him chase the ball."
Hester presents an important challenge to the Packers' coverage unit just one week after allowing Tennessee an average of 20.6 yards on eight returns, including a long of 41, in the preseason finale.
Punter Jon Ryan had a strong day, averaging better than 50 yards per punt, and Stock said his hang times were adequate. Stock blamed the long returns on the coverage unit not getting off blocks to get down the field, and not tackling well.
"If they saw our Tennessee film, I'm sure they're champing at the bit," Stock said.
Match-up has some history
Packers right defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila and Bears left tackle John Tait are familiar with one another, having gone head-to-head twice last year after Tait moved from right tackle in 2004 to left tackle in 2005.
But their first individual matchup actually took place in a Western Athletic Conference game in college, when Gbaja-Biamila was a junior at San Diego State and Tait a senior at BYU in 1998.
"I think when he got drafted they showed him doing something to me where he was dominating me, so I don't appreciate that," Gbaja-Biamila joked, referring to ESPN's 1999 draft coverage.
"But I look forward to going up against him. I know what I'm going to get from him, he knows what he's going to get, and so it's very competitive out there. And the fact that he's playing for the Bears makes it that much more competitive."
In the big leagues
Adjacent to the Packers' main locker room is an auxiliary locker room where the players fighting to make the team in training camp reside.
Four of those players made it out of the auxiliary room and into the main locker room when the 53-man roster was announced - defensive end Jason Hunter, receiver Ruvell Martin, punter Jon Ryan and kicker Dave Rayner.
The only problem was that while they were assigned lockers in the main room, they had to temporarily keep the name plates from the auxiliary room, which are considerably smaller than the regular name plates above the lockers.
But on Thursday, all four players came into the locker room to see that the smaller name plates had been taken down, and the new full-sized ones put up, matching everyone else's.
"It feels like I've finally moved up," Hunter said. "When I first looked at mine, I said it's smaller than everybody else's. They must have just taken it off the auxiliary locker room and threw it up there. When I came in today and saw the big one, I feel part of the locker room. It feels good being here."
Rayner said he and Ryan wondered if keeping the smaller name plate for another week was meant to be a message.
"I think that we've made it, sort of," Rayner said. "But if you mess up, you go back to the small name tag.
"It's kind of official I guess. They told us when we first got here they had to make them, so it might be a week. But it's pretty cool."