When Nick Barnett entered training camp last season, high expectations were thrown his way by both the coaches and the fans. After being selected with the 29th pick in the first round of the NFL draft, Barnett was expected to start immediately at middle linebacker.
Clearly, Barnett performed well winning Rookie of the Week honors on three separate occasions, and surpassing those expectations.
Just when it seemed the expectations were fulfilled, Barnett finds himself in another pressure packed season. After seeing what he could do at this level, GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman thinks the sky is the limit for the 6-2 230-pound linebacker.
If you thought Barnett had a lot of responsibility placed squarely on his shoulders last year as a rookie you're right. However, in 2004 he will add another duty to his job description, taking on the role of calling the plays in the huddle.
Fellow linebacker Na'il Diggs handled the play-calling duties in the past, but is more than happy to relinquish that role.
"I love that Barnett is doing it," Diggs said. "I'm glad that he can call them. He's a young guy and he can do it. Now I can catch my breath."
Sherman doesn't think that the added responsibility will take away from Barnett's performance. In fact, Sherman said Barnett is having a great camp.
"He made three plays in a row today," Sherman said. "It's hard to get him blocked. He really was a standout player in that (goal line) drill. He was right on top of his reads. He should make most of the plays and he did make most of the plays. He actually did very well.
"I am very pleased with his preparation for the camp. He's in great shape, and his instincts have been really, really sound. If he falters at something, he goes right to work and tries to fix it. I am very pleased with Nick. He's what you want at that position."
Chatman Feeling Fresh
Another player that has turned heads in training camp has been wide receiver/punt returner Antonio Chatman. He said the reason he is practicing well is simple.
"It's because I am fresh," Chatman said. "I have a lot more burst now. I can pull away and make a lot faster moves that I couldn't do last year. I would try to do something and it was like I was stuck in quick sand. This year I have my burst back.
"People forget that when I was playing Arena football, I was a receiver first before I was a return man. Once they have seen me fresh, they see that I really can play receiver. I appreciate it because it's starting to show, putting me in at the fourth receiver spot."
Chatman may have played receiver earlier in his career, but he admits he never had a tutor like he does now.
"Watching Driver has helped me learn the offense," Chatman said. "Now everything is easy. I can play any position because I know all of them."
Wide receivers coach Ray Sherman is particularly impressed with the progress of his
5-9, 184-pound receiver.
"There's no question he's a lot better," Sherman said. "He's had a chance to rest this offseason. He showed some great signs at the last mini-camp of taking it to the next level and the quarterbacks trust him. Right now he's a strong contender for that fourth spot. I really wouldn't hesitate to put him in the game at all."
Sharper, Diggs And Green Get Day Off
The training camp routine can get a little monotonous at times and a day off can go a long way in August. Sherman took that into account and decided to rest two defensive starters in Darren Sharper and Na'il Diggs. Brett Favre had the afternoon off as well.
"Sharper has made every practice," Sherman said. "Today was a day that I knew was going to be a shorter practice and I wanted the younger safeties to get some work. I held him back and giving him a day off will benefit him."
Sherman cited the same reasons to give Diggs the day off as well. However, Ahman Green missed practice for a different reason. For the second consecutive day sat out with soreness in his foot.
"His foot was a little bit sore in the scrimmage," Sherman said. "He changed shoes and then played with it but came out because he had trouble pushing off. I don't think it's a major issue, but we're being very conservative with him until he's full speed.
"He'll get some conditioning during this time. We'll evaluate him in the next two days and see if he can play Monday night. Nothing happened that caused it, it's just sore for whatever reason. But I think he'll be fine."
A Well Deserved Break
Just as Sherman gave Sharper and Diggs the day off, he also gave the entire team a break in the morning. Instead of practicing from 8:45 until 11:15 as scheduled, practice ended at 10:30.
Sherman said his team earned the time off.
"The guys have been responding real well," Sherman said. "We practiced at a fast pace. I thought that in the middle of the week, a long week, that fatigue kind of set in a little bit. I wanted to shorten it up and have increased intensity. I thought we got done what we wanted to get done today."