Packers Notebook - Smith, Stokes Included In Search


With an approach that looks to leave no stone unturned, the Packers have made a habit out of inviting free agents to Green Bay for tryouts.

Wednesday, they invited three more, evaluating quarterback Akili Smith and wide receivers Willie Jackson and J.J. Stokes.

What becomes of those tryouts remains to be seen, but in Smith and Stokes especially, the Packers have some intriguing options to consider.

"We're going to always continue to look at players that are available, and if there's a chance for us to improve our team in any capacity, we'll do that," GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman said.

In Smith, the Packers are investigating unrealized potential. When the Cincinnati Bengals drafted Smith out of the University of Oregon with the third overall pick of the 1999 NFL Draft, they thought they had their quarterback of the future.

But four years later, Smith had appeared in only 22 games due both to injury and ineffectiveness and he was waived, June 2.

Smith's professional struggles aside, Cincinnati wasn't the only team that thought he could be successful in the NFL, which is why he's drawing interest now.

"I think we all liked Akili when he came out (in 1999)," said Packers vice president of football operations Mark Hatley, who was with the Chicago Bears at the time. "I think we all had good grades on him, and for whatever reason it hasn't worked for him at Cincinnati."

That could mean that the player was the wrong fit for the situation, but it also could mean that the situation was wrong for the player. After all, being labeled savior to a struggling franchise isn't an easy title for anyone to carry.

"When you get drafted high and you get into the situation and the pressure of everything that goes along with (it) ... sometimes it doesn't work for guys," Hatley said. "But the talent was there when he came out of college. I think a lot of us saw that, or a lot of us felt that anyway. We'll see how he is now and how he fits with what we're trying to do and compared to the guys that we've got here."

Already, the Packers have a handful of players fighting for spots behind Brett Favre -- 11th-year veteran Doug Pederson, second-year player Craig Nall and newcomers Eric Crouch and Zak Kustok.

But if the inn looks crowded at the quarterback position, there appears to be even less room on the Packers' roster for Stokes.

While Sherman said Wednesday that he would like to add a veteran receiver this offseason, he's so fond of the current group -- Donald Driver, Robert Ferguson, Javon Walker and Karsten Bailey -- that it might be difficult to find the right man for the job.

"To bring a veteran receiver in here, he would have to assume a role, and that's not the easiest thing to do sometimes," Sherman said. "If they can compete for a third or second (receiver spot), more power to them. But that would be a little more difficult based on the fact that I have a lot of confidence in those guys that we have here right now."

Unlike Smith, who is still looking for his first break, Stokes is looking to demonstrate his staying power.

The 10th overall selection of the 1995 draft out of UCLA, Stokes had a career-best 63 catches and eight touchdowns in 1998, but since has produced more than 34 receptions only once (54 in 2001).

The Packers could find that neither of the former first-rounders are a fit in their puzzle, but at least they opened the box.

Healing Wounds

By the time the Packers closed their June mini-camp Wednesday, 14 players had missed at least one of the seven practices due to injury.

Some of that was to be expected. Defensive end Joe Johnson (triceps) and offensive linemen Chad Clifton (pelvis/hip) and Mark Tauscher (knee) are still coming back from what were season-ending injuries in 2002.

Some of that was precautionary. Defensive lineman Chukie Nwokorie sat out practices due to a minor knee injury suffered in the Packers' previous mini-camp.

But some of it was preventable, in GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman's mind anyway.

"I told the guys this morning, we have been afflicted by some very bad cases of stupidity in this camp, as far as guys tackling each other and being a little too physical and jeopardizing careers by diving for balls and knocking people down," Sherman said. "That's a good thing, because of the aggressive nature they've shown and the enthusiasm that they have to play well, but it has transferred into some of these little nicks and bruises that we've had."

The good news is, Sherman expects almost all of the Packers' walking wounded to be ready to go when training camp opens in mid-July.

Only Johnson, Clifton and Tauscher are expected to be limited at the beginning of camp, not because they're behind schedule in their recovery, but because that's part of the original plan.

"At the start of training camp, guys like Tauscher and Clifton will be held back and will have a modified workout plan," Sherman said. "(They) probably won't participate in the preseason games very early, but maybe midway through ...

"Joe Johnson will be available. I'll probably modify him like I do sometimes with guys that are a little bit older."

Brown Back?

Nose tackle Gilbert Brown missed his second straight mini-camp, but he has a valid excuse: he isn't under contract. That probably won't be the case for long, however.

Sherman indicated Wednesday that the Packers likely will re-sign the 339-pounder before training camp, and he's confident that Brown will enter camp ready to participate, if not necessarily in game condition.

"I don't think he's doing any Speedo commercials right now," Sherman said. "I think that he's getting himself in shape and ready to go.

"Gilbert's Gilbert, he's a big man. He's going to be probably a little bit heavy, going to have to work himself into better shape when he gets here, but he's in training right now.

"I trust that if we do get him signed and sealed and delivered, that he'll contribute in some fashion."

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