Packers Notebook - Barnett Hopes To Return This Week

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Middle linebacker Nick Barnett didn't want to quantify in numbers the strength of his sprained right ankle Monday, but said it's good enough that he expects to tape it up Sunday and play against the Chicago Bears.

The Green Bay Packers' first-round draft choice missed the first game of his NFL career last Thursday after injuring the ankle in a win over the San Francisco 49ers, Nov. 23.

Having rehabbed the ankle all of last week and through the weekend, Barnett hopes he can return to the practice field Wednesday. But first he's going to have to prove himself healthy in a running workout Tuesday.

"I don't know what percentage I am," Barnett said of his injury status. "I'm good at math, but I'm not a medical expert.

"I think I'm pretty good, but what you think and what the doctor thinks are two different things. (The ankle is) good walking. I can walk everywhere you want me to walk. But you don't walk in the NFL."

A starter since the season opener, Barnett was virtually an every-down player on defense from Week 2 on, until suffering his injury.

His 102 tackles and three interceptions lead the Packers. And although Barnett sustained the injury when he landed awkwardly on Gilbert Brown's foot after jumping up to celebrate a tackle, he insists that he won't hold back when he returns to the field.

"Things happen," Barnett said. "I couldn't project that I was going to step on Gilbert's foot and (the injury) was going to happen. I'm still going to be excited and I'm still going to jump around. I'm going to maybe look around (first), but things happen (and) now I just have to focus on getting out there."

Playoff Plans

To a man, the Packers know that losing to the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving Day did nothing to help their chances of catching the Minnesota Vikings and winning the NFC North.

But the fact still remains that after Minnesota's loss to the St. Louis Rams over the weekend, the Packers remain only a game out of first place in the division.

And even though there are only four games left in which to surpass the Vikings, the Packers feel there's time enough to make a run.

"We're not out of anything," said veteran tight end Wesley Walls. "We set our goals at the beginning of the season and everything is still attainable.

"It's December. There's no better time to be playing football than when you have goals you can attain in December."

Because of tie-breaker scenarios that lean in Minnesota's favor, the Packers would be better off winning the division outright.

To do that will take some help down the stretch from at least two Vikings opponents, but offensive guard Mike Wahle insisted that the Packers' focus will remain solely on their own performance for the remainder of the season.

"All we can do now is try to win these last four (games) and hope Minnesota flops on their heads or something," Wahle said. "We still have an opportunity to be 10-6. We're going to strive to do that and whatever happens from there is up to the football gods."

Golden Opportunity

Packers running backs had no hard feelings Monday upon learning that their position coach, Sylvester Croom, had accepted the head coaching position at Mississippi State.

But that doesn't mean there weren't any long faces.

Running backs Ahman Green, Najeh Davenport and Tony Fisher each said they understood why Croom is leaving the Packers to pursue what Davenport called "the opportunity of a lifetime," but they'll miss the man who has been a Packers assistant for three seasons.

Green, who ranks second in the NFC in rushing with 1,383 yards this season, said Croom has made him into a more patient runner. And both Davenport and Fisher, who have played under no other position coach in their brief tenures in the league, spoke of Croom's qualities as a teacher.

"He taught me a lot," Davenport said. "He can put you in place when you need to be put in place. He can pick you up when you're down. He puts a lot of confidence in you. He's a great person to work with and be around."

Said Fisher of Croom: "He's helped me out a lot. I was an undrafted free agent and every day I'm learning something new from him ... You can't do nothing but wish him the best."

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