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Notebook: LB Jones Loses Mentor, Gains Opportunity


Second-year linebacker Brad Jones is well aware that the departure of Aaron Kampman in free agency is a bit of a mixed blessing for him.

On the one hand, he's losing a veteran teammate he called his mentor. But on the other hand, the starting left outside linebacker spot is now his for the taking.

"Aaron was a good teammate," Jones said. "Aaron was one of the main guys who mentored me. He gave me so many pointers and so much advice. Honestly, I'm sad I'm not going to get that advice anymore. But I really didn't have too many thoughts on (the starting lineup). I'm just working like I've always done."

There's no telling at this point who else might be brought in to compete with Jones at outside linebacker, either through the draft or free agency. But he definitely begins the offseason as the front-runner for the starting job opposite Clay Matthews after taking over following Kampman's season-ending knee injury last year in Week 11.

Jones ended up recording four sacks over a span of four games and held up better against the run than many thought the 239-pound rookie seventh-round draft choice would. He actually missed the first 2½ weeks of training camp due to a back injury, which would be a significant setback for any rookie, but he was up to speed when he needed to be.

"I thought did a nice job in his opportunity, and definitely he'll have film that he can learn from," Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. "He definitely has the versatility that we're looking for in that position.

"The ability to get him ready, and also being a rookie was concerning, no doubt about it at the start of the season. But I think it speaks volumes of Brad's ability to catch up. (Outside linebackers coach) Kevin Greene, the extra time he spent with him. He did a lot of nice things down the stretch for us."

But Jones knows he can't rest on his notable rookie accomplishments. The defense needs a viable pass rusher from the left outside linebacker spot to complement Matthews, who had 10 sacks last year, and keep teams from focusing all their attention on the right side.

And who knows ... maybe they'll be another hungry rookie like him added to the roster who will be looking to make his mark early, too.

"I'm always more critical of myself than anyone, so I just see tons of room for improvement," Jones said. "Obviously I think I played well, but I'm excited for next year because I know how much more I can do.

"I feel confident and proud just stepping in like that my rookie year. I definitely feel proud of that. But then again, it doesn't mean anything for next year. I just feel like everything starts over, so you're working from the bottom again. At least that's how I feel."

Deep group

The offensive line for the 2010 Packers is far from settled, but McCarthy already likes the depth the team will have up front, no matter how the lineup shakes out.

McCarthy said he felt center Scott Wells and right guard Josh Sitton were the top two performers on the line last year. Veteran left tackle Chad Clifton has been re-signed, while McCarthy said contract talks continue with right tackle Mark Tauscher. His veteran presence in the second half of 2009 was a significant factor in the reduced number of sacks given up, as was the improved health of Clifton as the year went on.

"I anticipate Chad will be better this year physically than he was last year, because you can't discount the fact that he had a number of surgeries and the rehab that he went through at this time last year," McCarthy said. "The ability that he'll have to get into his training, increase his training at a higher rate earlier in the offseason I think will definitely help him."

In addition, promising lineman T.J. Lang will be in his second year and could compete at right tackle or left guard, while guard/center Jason Spitz is expected to return to full health from his '09 back injury, guard Daryn Colledge is expected to compete for a job and tackle Allen Barbre has some playing experience under his belt. Prospects Evan Dietrich-Smith on the interior and Breno Giacomini at tackle also remain in the mix, with the draft still to come.

"I think there's definitely more depth this time of the year than we've ever had in my time here in Green Bay," McCarthy said. "So I look for that group to get a year better."

Nice duds

Jones, receiver Jordy Nelson and safety Nick Collins were the three players who modeled the 1929 throwback uniforms for the Fan Fest crowd, and the early response was favorable.

A lot of their teammates on hand for Fan Fest saw the trio of players dressed up backstage, and the players as a whole seemed pretty jazzed up about the new look.

{sportsad300}"I like them," Nelson said. "This will be the first time I've ever worn a throwback. I think a lot of guys in the locker room have been waiting for our opportunity. Last year a lot of teams wore throwbacks, and we've been looking forward to our opportunity. They're different, but they're throwbacks. All throwbacks are. I think it will be fun."

The three models took some grief from their teammates for the visible thigh pads stuffed into their pants, because most players these days don't wear those. But the look was eye-catching, to say the least.

"I like the circle around my number," Jones said. "It like pops out. I like them a lot. It's like playing an old-school video game in real life.

"I can't wait to play a throwback game. The games you watch on TV, you like seeing something different. You like seeing the old-school games. It's kind of cool."

The Packers will wear the 1929 replicas at home for one and possibly two games this coming season, with plans to be announced after the schedule is released in April.

"Hopefully we can get past the jerseys when it comes to game time and focus on the game," Nelson said. "But it will be fun to go out on Lambeau Field and play in the old-school uniforms like they did back in the day."

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