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Packers Dealing With Distractions

040804bikes_a.jpg national editor Vic Carucci has begun his annual tour of training camps and will file columns from each stop. This installment comes from Green Bay, Wis., where the Packers opened camp on Aug. 1.

Mike Sherman knows all about training-camp distractions. After all, his team practices smack in the middle of Packerland, right across the street from Lambeau Field.

There are cheeseheads everywhere. Cars and trucks drive by, horns honking to encourage the players through grueling two-a-days in the hot sun. Fans of all ages swarm around the fences that surround the field. Kids seek autographs and -- in one of the neatest traditions in sports -- offer their bicycles for players to ride between the locker room and the field.

Sherman likes it this way.

"A lot of people think you want to put your team in a sterile environment, so there are no distractions," the Packers coach said. "But you play in front of 70,000 people so you have to have the ability to focus. Our fans bring a lot of enthusiasm, emotion, electricity to our guys. And these guys are performers. They love to have someone applaud when they do it well and yell at them when they don't."

The most important benefit is that the players and coaches take the distractions in stride. They get used to them. They treat them as part of their daily routine.

And it's a good thing, because the Packers have had some distractions this summer above and beyond the daily routine.

The biggest was the shocking news of the sudden death of Mark Hatley, the Packers' vice president of football operations, only days before camp opened. It was an emotional blow for Sherman, who had a close friendship with Hatley. It also had an obvious impact on the Packers' front-office operation. Hatley was one of the more talented and respected talent evaluators in the league.

"There's a void there, more so in who he was as a man," Sherman said. "Talent-wise, we're all replaceable. Everybody everywhere is replaceable. But the character of that man will be almost impossible, or impossible, to replace. He brought tremendous character, enthusiasm, honesty to the job, which was what I really enjoyed about him.

"He was a good balance for me. I was probably more of the worrier and he would kind of keep things a little lighter. He brought a lot of chemistry to that staff. No ego. His only agenda was to win. You can't get enough guys on your team like that."

For now, several members of the Packers' player-personnel department are sharing Hatley's duties.

A potential distraction has been the holdout of veteran left cornerback Mike McKenzie over a contract dispute. McKenzie has sought -- and received -- permission from the Packers to seek a trade, but no deal seems likely because the Packers are insisting on at least first-round compensation.

The holdout has received attention in the local and national media. But Sherman has insisted on downplaying its impact. He has not fretted about it publicly, and the rest of the team seems to be following that lead.

"Our players and our coaches and myself have planned to win with Mike or without Mike," Sherman said. "In Green Bay, if something happens -- if someone gets hurt or change of events cause certain things to happen, such as Mike's case -- life goes on. Let's get the next guy ready.

"No one's batted an eyelash. No one's asked about him. He has made a big contribution here over the years. I always liked watching Mike play, but life goes on. We move forward. We plan to win with him or without him, whatever the case may be."

It is only training camp, but the Packers are giving every indication of moving forward with veteran Al Harris at right cornerback and either Michael Hawthorne -- who started two games last season while McKenzie was injured -- or rookies Ahmad Carroll or Joey Thomas on the left side.

"We have some good, young players," Sherman said. "They have talent. Mike started as a rookie. Hopefully, we can find someone of that type of ability in camp. I feel, from a depth standpoint, we can address it."

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