Packers Open Camp In Prime Time


With the first day of training camp consisting primarily of physicals, running tests and meetings in the lower levels of Lambeau Field, former Raiders cornerback and key free-agent acquisition Charles Woodson said it was "kind of like being in a dungeon."

But that all changed at night, when the Packers took the field for the first official practice of the Mike McCarthy era under the lights at Clarke Hinkle Field.

"It's fun, but I'm definitely not used to it," Woodson said of the night practice and somewhat newfangled schedule. "We're usually in meetings at this time, if I'm in Oakland right now. (Here) we're done with practice and now we just go back to the dorm. So it's different in that respect, but it's fun."

Thousands of fans were lined up all along the fence on Oneida Street, with all the sets of bleachers filled to capacity and other fans standing several deep.

"It kind of felt like Monday Night Football," receiver Donald Driver said. "The lights were on, the crowd was screaming. It felt like we were at home, it just wasn't cold."

McCarthy admitted he was nervous about the first practice, but only jokingly about whether the lights would work.

All in all, the coach felt it was a typical opening day.

"It's always great to get started," McCarthy said. "It was a little sloppy. Guys are getting used to playing with pads again, so that's natural."

The approach of the players seems to be that last season's 4-12 record has been wiped away, especially as far as McCarthy is concerned.

"We're very optimistic," linebacker Nick Barnett said. "I don't think he's taking over a 4-12 team. I think he's taking over a whole new team and whole new era, a new attitude, a new swagger. That's important for everybody to know.

"Especially for guys coming in here to earn positions and earn jobs, we're out there fighting, we've got new coaches out there. Everything is different from the practices to the food to the meetings. It's a whole new attitude, and I feel very confident in this program."

Back to work

Friday's practice was the first since early in the spring for Woodson and fellow cornerback Al Harris, who both missed the team's voluntary organized team activities (OTAs) in June.

McCarthy noted that both players arrived this week in great shape. Woodson remained in Houston to continue offseason conditioning on his own rather than practice with the team last month, but he doesn't feel behind as far as learning the defense.

"I felt good with everything," he said. "Everything we did today we did in the first OTA, so I didn't miss a step. I'm pretty much up to speed."

Harris echoed those thoughts.

"The playbook hasn't changed on defense, we're running the same scheme," he said. "The first day is always the first day, you know what I mean, but I think we did a good job."

Not ready yet

Eight players did not pass their physicals and did not practice. Among those who sat out were wide receivers Robert Ferguson (back) and Rod Gardner (hamstring). McCarthy said both players were day-to-day. Their absence left Marc Boerigter working with the No. 1 offense opposite Driver.

Running back Ahman Green (torn quad tendon) said after practice it would be about two weeks before he expects to return to the field. Najeh Davenport did pass his physical and returned to practice at full speed.

Safety Marquand Manuel also sat out, and Marviel Underwood replaced him with the No. 1 defense. Roy Manning worked with the No. 1 defense at weak-side linebacker in place of A.J. Hawk, the only Packers' draft pick who remains unsigned.

Big leg

Early in practice, the punt team was backed up near its own goal line, and with a strong breeze at his back Jon Ryan boomed one that carried more than 70 yards in the air from the line of scrimmage.

The deep, hanging spiral elicited a loud cheer from the sizable crowd, and Ryan confessed that hearing the fans was a nice boost.

"As a punter you don't get real fired up, but it's cool to get the fans on your side right away," he said. "It's pretty cool to see all the fans out there."

Ryan said he plans to focus on three things during camp to try to win the punting job - consistency, getting his punts off a tick quicker, and getting more hang time.

"I'll get a little excited and start to drive it a little bit, where sometimes I'll hit it 55 or 60 yards but it's not hanging up there," he said. "That's something I have to work on a little bit."

Welcome appearance

Packers President John Jones was on hand Friday and visited with McCarthy before practice officially began. Jones underwent successful open-heart surgery last month and has been resting and recovering at home.

Jones stayed for the early portion of the practice before leaving to get out of the heat.

"I think that was very rewarding for everybody," McCarthy said. "I had a chance to visit with John earlier in the week, and he feels great, he looks great. He's anxious to get back."

Jones also was wearing one of the Packers' new Red Heart Caps, which the team is selling to help raise money for heart disease research.

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