In this era of free agency and high roster turnover, early training camp practices are as much about familiarizing yourselves with your new teammates as much as the new plays in the playbook.
With 21 of 22 starters returning from last year and in camp, the Packers already have a leg up on the competition.
GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman notes that the bonds built up over time will have a positive impact on the club's 2004 edition.
When asked what he thought the biggest difference was with this year's camp opener than with previous seasons Sherman said: "There's less transition on this team than there has been, so I would say that will be the big difference. As long as you have good talent and you don't need to transition a whole lot, I think you can carry over attitudes, personalities and chemistry from the previous year, which I was pretty pleased with."
Carroll In The Fold
With first-round draft pick Ahmad Carroll signing Monday morning, the Packers had their full 2004 draft class on the field for the first full squad workout of the season.
The 5-foot-10 cornerback from the University of Arkansas and his coach were both happy to get the paperwork done and eager to get down to football.
"It feels really good," Carroll said. "I'm ready to get out here and practice. I want to get everything cranked up and ready to go."
Carroll sat out the morning practice, after traveling to Green Bay overnight, but took reps in the afternoon session.
"We were obviously anxious to get it done," Sherman said. "Eugene Parker, his agent, did a great job of making sure it did get done. Because of (the passing of Mark Hatley) last week, things were put off on our end, and they did a good job of working with us."
Since being drafted, Carroll has hit the ground running and is in the mix to fill the vacancy at left cornerback right away, but he's looking at the big picture.
"Of course I'd like to start, but I'm here to help my team win," he added. I've got a Pro Bowl safety (Darren Sharper) back there and my job is just to be a piece of the puzzle, to fit right in and do what I'm supposed to do to help us get to the ultimate goal."
Big Man In The Middle
GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman will be playing it cautiously when it comes to the on-field time for defensive tackle Grady Jackson.
"He's going to be a one practice a day guy," Sherman said of the 340-pound lineman. "We're going to condition him extensively in the afternoon because of the arthritic knee that he has. Grady's not the type of guy that's going to come out here and look good in a Speedo, you know that, but he needs to keep pushing himself to get in the kind of shape that he needs to get in."
The coach knows that he'll be better served by having Jackson available to clog running lanes in the fall than by overextending him in August.
"I knew what I was getting into when we picked him up last year, and I was pleased with the performance he gave us. He's a good player and we'll continue to get him fired up and have him ready for the first ball game. He's a big factor in this defensive plan."
Na'il Digging In
Linebacker Na'il Diggs has totaled six sacks throughout his Packers career, but Sherman is looking to see his fifth-year man harassing opposing quarterbacks on a regular basis in 2004.
Sherman and his staff are looking for a complementary pass rusher for resident sack master Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, whose 10 sacks in 2003 were more than double any one else on the roster.
Diggs is familiar with a pass-rushing role, having racked up 18 sacks in his three collegiate seasons at Ohio State, and Sherman believes he can return to that form.
"Diggs was a good rusher in college and we can incorporate him there," Sherman said. "He's at a point in his career now where we can use him in some packages as a pass rusher. He has some good quickness and some length."
On The Line
Right tackle Mark Tauscher reported to camp in top condition and couldn't wait to get back on the field.
"It's nice coming in healthy for the first time in a while," said Tauscher, who was returning from a 2002 season-ending knee injury when training camp opened last year. "I think it will be fun going through two-a-days, but we'll see how that works out. You need to get the work in, and to come in fresh has been a big change for me."
The fifth-year Wisconsin native was thrilled with the performance he and his linemates turned in last season, and thinks a repeat performance should be in order.
"I think we should be incredibly optimistic," said Tauscher following Monday morning's workout. "We have our entire offense back and we put up great numbers last year. But that was last year and this is this year. We have to identify ourselves again and prove that we can be as dominant running the football this year as we did last year."
A key factor in that return to form will be the health of the five men up front. Pro Bowl center Mike Flanagan (patella tendonitis) and left guard Mike Wahle (knee bone contusion) are expected to miss the first week of practice, giving the staff a look at some back-ups early in camp.
Grey Ruegamer worked at center with the first team Monday, with Steve Morley seeing time at guard.
Morley, a 6-foot-7 native of Halifax, Nova Scotia, was the first overall pick in the 2003 Canadian Football League Draft and played 11 games at left tackle for the Calgary Stampeders. Sherman liked what he saw from Morley's early work at guard.
"I thought he did a nice job today overall," Sherman said. "Certainly he has a ways to go, but it seemed like a natural position for him the time I saw him practice today."