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Notebook: Meaning Of Rivalry Conveyed


In his first regular-season news conference Monday, Head Coach Mike McCarthy didn't make any grand pronouncements about the Packers' longstanding rivalry with the Chicago Bears, who visit Lambeau Field to open the season on Sunday.

But the significance of the rivalry isn't lost on him, or any of his players.

"Anybody that's worked here has a clear understanding of how much this game means to everybody - the fans, the organizations, the former players and the current players," McCarthy said.

McCarthy added that veteran receiver Donald Driver addressed the team Monday to talk about the rivalry and what it means, specifically to get the message across to the many young players on the Packers' roster who have never played in a Packer-Bear game.

"What I took from it is just that this is serious," rookie safety Tyrone Culver said. "There's a lot of history behind this rivalry, and coming from a vet, for him to go out in front like that, that's shows a lot, what kind of respect he has for this team and this organization."

Other players recall getting similar messages when they first began preparing to play the Bears.

"It's like a college rivalry, so we went out there and played it like one," linebacker Nick Barnett said of his rookie season of 2003, the last time the Packers swept the two games with the Bears. "It's always been like that since I've been here. It's a big game, probably the biggest of the season."

Foremost on the minds of the veteran players was that the Bears clinched the NFC North title last year at Lambeau, on Christmas Day. The Bears also completed their first season sweep of the Packers since 1991.

"I just know it's going to be real intense," rookie receiver Greg Jennings said.

Impressive warm-up

Speaking of Jennings, his 328 receiving yards in the preseason were the third-most of any NFL player in the last seven years, behind the 400 yards gained by Randy Moss in 2000 and the 331 by Chicago rookie Mark Bradley last year.

Jennings is slated to start in his first regular-season game on Sunday opposite Driver, having moved ahead of veteran Robert Ferguson with that exceptional training camp. But McCarthy emphasized that the new starting lineup, which he revealed last Friday against Tennessee, is more a matter of having three qualified receivers for two spots.

"Clearly I've never seen a rookie that productive that fast," McCarthy said. "With that in mind, it was really not a reflection on Robert Ferguson at all. Robert, Donald and Greg all have excellent flexibility. Very rarely do you have three receivers who can play all three positions and are interchangeable."

Jennings echoed those thoughts. Always humble and well-spoken, he wasn't about to make the promotion a big deal.

"I'm starting, yes, but we're going to play to my strengths just like we're going to play to Ferguson's strengths, so it's like we have three starters," he said. "It just depends on what we've got out there and what we need done."

Another step forward

Second-year linebacker Brady Poppinga also has moved up to No. 1 on the depth chart ahead of Ben Taylor and is expected to start at strong-side linebacker on Sunday.

Poppinga has recovered remarkably quickly from a torn ACL sustained last December, but he has maintained all along his comeback wasn't based on a time frame but on coming back as a quality player and contributor. Having just returned to practice four weeks ago (Aug. 7) and taking over a starting spot for the season opener certainly speaks to that.

"I never really expected it to happen," Poppinga said. "I knew it was a possibility, so the bottom line is I'll just give the greatest amount of effort I can to contribute to the team. It just so happens I'm probably going to be a starter. But it doesn't really matter if you're starting, you just have to go make plays, and that's my focus, to be a playmaker."

Taylor is now listed as the top backup at both the strong-side and weak-side linebacker positions.

Injury update

Backup offensive lineman Junius Coston is out at least this week with a knee injury sustained in the preseason finale last Friday. McCarthy said he didn't know the severity of the injury but didn't anticipate it would require surgery.

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