The battle for starting positions in the Packers' secondary, described as "intense" and "wide-open" by defensive coordinator Jim Bates, heated up as the team returned for two mini-camp practices inside the Don Hutson Center, Saturday.
Although only four days into the 2005 season, and just two days into their pro football careers for the rookies, the Packers coaches liked what they've seen this week from the young group vying for the open jobs.
"They're flying around and having fun, that's a good thing," secondary/safeties coach Joe Baker said. "It's a new system and you see that Coach Bates has got that great enthusiasm and it's definitely contagious. I think guys are having fun out there."
Cornerback Joey Thomas was just one of the players that made his presence felt, breaking up several passes, including the touchdown-saving effort he gave as he dove to knock away a pass intended for Donald Driver in the end zone.
"We were getting our hands on a lot of passes today," Baker said. "I thought Joey Thomas was outstanding today. He got his hands on a lot of passes and the young kid, Mike Hawkins, had an interception in the red zone.
"I think the theme that we've kind of carried through the week is that we're learning. We've got guys running open at times because we're still not exactly sure what we're doing, but we're making plays too and that's been exciting."
For Hawkins, the interception was his second in as many days.
"There are a lot of young players in here right now and I think that the guys do realize that there is an opportunity for them to step up, make plays and try to win a starting job," cornerbacks coach Lionel Washington said. "Somebody has to rise to the top. We have a couple of months yet but somebody has to start taking that step now in the offseason. Whoever does that is going to be our starter."
In other practice news, wide receiver Robert Ferguson slid behind defenders on two occasions to haul in touchdown passes from J.T. O'Sullivan in the back corner of the end zone, while Andrae Thurman toed the line as he hauled in a touchdown pass from quarterback Craig Nall in the front corner of the end zone.
O'Sullivan also found Ferguson and Thurman for back-to-back scores as the team moved to drills inside the red zone.
The afternoon practice, reserved for rookies and selected veterans, saw quarterback Aaron Rodgers connect on a couple of occasions with Green Bay native Chris Samp, who earlier in the day had his helmet spun around on his head by a defender making a play on the ball.
"That's a good welcome to the NFL," Samp later joked with reporters.
On defense, 2005 draft picks Marviel Underwood and Nick Collins converged on tight end Garrett Cross to break up a pass from Rodgers, while defensive tackle Corey Williams broke through the line to drop Walt Williams for a loss.
Packers cornerback Ahmad Carroll was excused from Saturday's practices for personal reasons. Defensive tackle Cletidus Hunt participated in some individual line drills but did not practice.
The Packers will conduct one final mini-camp practice Sunday (rookies and selected veterans) at 9:30 a.m. Weather and field conditions permitting, practice will be held outside at Ray Nitschke Field (open to the public), but otherwise will be held inside the Don Hutson Center (closed to the public).
Today At A Glance...
Where: Don Hutson Center (indoors)
Did Not Practice: Chad Clifton (knee), Brennan Curtin (knee), Najeh Davenport (shoulder), Cletidus Hunt (hamstring), Grady Jackson (knee), Chris Johnson (shin), Nick Luchey (hamstring), Jason Horton (chest/lungs), Hannibal Navies (shoulder)
Did Not Attend: Ahmad Carroll, Brett Favre, Bubba Franks, Al Harris, Javon Walker