Notebook: Rookies Still Going Strong


It's a phrase bandied about often in NFL circles - the 'rookie wall.'

Players fresh out of college have spent their careers playing 12- and 13-game seasons and sometimes struggle physically to push through the final contests of their rookie year.

They're not conditioned for the 16-game NFL grind, and their performance starts to suffer in the season's latter stages.

But despite starting as many as five rookies in several games this season, Head Coach Mike McCarthy doesn't see his young players hitting that wall. In fact, he believes the rookie wall is a product of a bygone era.

"As I've been in the league, I think the strength and conditioning programs in college, particularly (at) the bigger schools that have the resources and the structure in place, you're seeing the college athlete, in my opinion, better conditioned," McCarthy said. "People want to talk about the rookie wall, I don't think you see that as much as you may have years ago."

Rookie linebacker A.J. Hawk, known to all his teammates as a workout fiend, doesn't feel that he's wearing down physically at all. He recognizes that the season is significantly longer than any he's played previously, but he's taken that into account with the conditioning work he does on his own.

"I'm fine. My body feels good, I feel good mentally," Hawk said. "Obviously all of us would like to have more wins, but as far as physically and everything, my body feels great. I think our coaches did a good job of getting us ready.

"Everybody has their own little way of how much you need to lift, when you need to lift, how to do all that kind of stuff to stay healthy for this long of a season."

Hawk admits it helps that he hasn't sustained any injuries. Rookie receiver Greg Jennings has, and that has made his first NFL season an even greater physical challenge.

Jennings posted two 100-yard games in his first five NFL contests but then injured his ankle against Miami on Oct. 22. He missed one game and has played every game since, but he hasn't reached 60 yards in a game since returning and only twice in the five games since has he topped 40 yards.

That's not to say Jennings has hit the wall, but a significant injury is an obstacle that simply makes things even more difficult for a rookie. Jennings appeared to re-aggravate the ankle in his first game back at Buffalo, a game during which McCarthy noticed his comfort level and speed coming out of breaks weren't quite there.

"I think it's a part of going through his first NFL season and fighting through the number of practices and games and the expectations of being a starter in this league," McCarthy said.

"Greg being a young guy, he's very conscientious, very mature as far as his approach to staying healthy. I don't think we pushed him back too fast, but he did come back quickly based on the type of injury he did have."

Hello ... here's your helmet

New receiver Carlyle Holiday didn't get much of an introduction to his new coaches and teammates on Wednesday. There were some delays getting him through his physical and when he finished he rushed out to the practice field after the team had gone through stretching exercises and started catching passes in the receiver drills.

"They just tell me what route to run," Holiday said. "It's like you're a redshirt freshman in college again."

Truthfully, Holiday is a little more experienced than that. A former quarterback at Notre Dame who made the transition to receiver in his final year with the Irish, Holiday is one of many athletic quarterbacks in recent years who have taken their shot in the NFL at receiver. Jacksonville's Matt Jones, a quarterback at Arkansas, and Pittsburgh's Antwaan Randle-El, from Indiana, are two of the more successful examples.

McCarthy, a former quarterbacks coach, feels that any player's knowledge of the quarterback position can only help in their understanding of the big picture on offense. Last year in San Francisco, he coached receiver Arnaz Battle, another former Notre Dame QB, and he's interested in seeing what Holiday can do for the Packers.

"The one thing that's been constant in my experience is the best players are always the smartest players," McCarthy said. "You go back to great players I've been fortunate enough to be around, they not only knew their assignment, but they knew exactly how their assignment fit into that particular scheme, the anticipation of the defensive schemes they were going to encounter."

McCarthy added he may take a look at Holiday as a punt returner, but the receiver's first job is to learn the playbook as quickly as he can and be ready to step in on offense if needed. Holiday spent most of 2005 on Arizona's practice squad and started two games for the Cardinals this season but did not catch a pass.

"I was just wherever they needed me," Holiday said. "If a receiver got hurt, I was in there for his position. I had to pretty much learn every position on the team, and they just throw you in whenever they need you, so you have to be prepared."

{sportsad300}Favre far from decision

Quarterback Brett Favre said he has yet to discuss his future with his wife Deanna and is simply concentrating on getting as many wins as possible out of the four games remaining in 2006.

"We made it a point this year to just deal with things in the present right now," Favre said in his news conference on Wednesday.

"I have nothing but great memories up to this point, and with these four games remaining, I'm going to get the most out of them, and if there's more after that, we'll do the same. That's just kind of how I'm handling it at this point. I would love for us to be in better situation, but it is what it is."

Favre also said he's considering having minor surgery on his left ankle, the same surgery he had on it earlier in his career, but he gave no timetable for that process.

Injury update

Tight end David Martin (questionable, ribs) took part only in individual drills on Wednesday and is working his way back, though he's still sore and it's unclear whether he'll return to team drills this week.

Right tackle Mark Tauscher (doubtful, groin) remains a long shot to play this week. McCarthy said Tauscher is feeling better but the tests indicate the injury isn't healed. There remains a possibility he could return to practice next week.

Running back Ahman Green (probable, knee) missed practice Wednesday, as is his routine, and cornerback Charles Woodson (probable, shoulder) also missed practice, but both are expected to be ready on Sunday.

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