The Green Bay Packers wrapped up their first mini-camp of 2004 Sunday, and the best development of all may have been the minimal expansion of the team's injury list.
Other than defensive lineman Earl Cochran (quadriceps) and wide receiver Devin Lewis (knee), who sat out the final two days of practice with minor injuries, no players were hurt during the five-day camp.
Practices were conducted with players in jerseys and shorts instead of the pads of training camp, so in many ways it's too soon to make any judgments about the state of the team. But GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman said he saw things he liked throughout the workouts.
"We're not ready to play the Carolina Panthers today, but we've made a lot of progress," Sherman said. "I thought our veterans came back with a great attitude. Everybody that was here and participated in our mini-camp as a veteran really was all business. They were excited about being here, back with their teammates and they worked extremely well."
Veterans started practicing Wednesday, and the bulk of them were released Saturday afternoon. Rookies, meanwhile, came in Friday and stayed through Sunday.
"With the rookies, you're always concerned when they come out that you made good choices (in the draft and free agency)," Sherman said. "We really won't know that until a couple years from now. But athletically and talent-wise, I believe they're what we expected them to be and so we're pleased with that as well."
The Packers had near perfect attendance for their mini-camp. The only players not to attend were defensive end Joe Johnson, who was excused from the workouts, and cornerback Mike McKenzie, who has expressed a desire to be traded.
Even better news for the Packers, is that they should have all of their draft picks in their upcoming camp, which gets under way June 2.
Last season an NFL rule prohibiting athletes to participate in such camps until the end of their academic year forced Oregon State's Nick Barnett and James Lee to sit out the June camp. This season, Sherman expects no such absences as the only player who has the potential to be affected by the rule, punter B.J. Sander of Ohio State, has already graduated.
As for this camp, Sherman said that the Packers were able to install about 75 percent of their defensive system for the upcoming season, which has been modified under the new leadership of coordinator Bob Slowik.
"For the amount of things we threw at the players, they're retention was phenomenal," Sherman said. "I thought they brought it out on the field."
Packers defensive tackle Grady Jackson will never be considered svelte, not at a listed weight of 350 pounds.
But more than three months removed from the end of the 2003 season, Sherman was glad to see that the big man in the middle hadn't gotten much bigger.
"I was holding my breath that Grady would be knocking down a few biscuits down there in Mississippi," Sherman said. "But he's been doing something in regard to conditioning and came back about 4 pounds off the mark, which was pretty significant."
Jackson participated only in individual drills during the week due to a knee injury, but Sherman said the prognosis was favorable for a full recovery.
"His knee has limited or no arthritis, which is key for someone his age," Sherman said. "That was exciting."
While Jackson seems to be winning the battle of the bulge, Sherman indicated that offensive tackle Kevin Barry needs to drop at least 15 pounds.
Meanwhile, linebackers coach Mark Duffner said Armegis Spearman, who was out of football last season, could stand to lose 10 pounds.
The Packers continue to pursue Cleveland Browns quarterback Tim Couch, although a resolution between the two teams and between the Packers and Couch isn't necessarily in sight.
"I'm hopeful it works out," Sherman said of acquiring the first overall pick of the 1999 NFL Draft. "If it doesn't, we'll go to 'Plan B.' I'm not discouraged by the process. But I'm not encouraged because nothing's really happened at this point."
Sherman has made it clear that he would like to see McKenzie back on the field when the Packers return to Green Bay for their next mini-camp in June. But he's not going to give the disgruntled cornerback a special invitation.
Asked if he felt the need to call McKenzie over the next month, Sherman said, "No, I don't believe so."