Pads and veterans won't be entered into the equation until Saturday, but the Green Bay Packers officially opened their 2002 training camp with an afternoon practice for rookies and first-year players Wednesday at Clarke Hinkle Field.
Perhaps the best news for the Packers was that they had five of their six draft choices in uniform, with fourth-round selection Najeh Davenport expected to sign his contract and be available to practice Thursday.
GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman said there was a healthy bit of anticipation for the first workout, even if the intensity level will be tempered until the weekend.
"These guys have been here (in Green Bay) for some time," he said of the rookies. "Since they've been drafted they came to mini-camp, they've been to opportunity sessions and some of these guys have been working with the coaches individually . . .
"There's a lot of teaching going on down there, it's not going to have the intensity of that first practice (in pads) when we really get to see who can do and who can't. This is still a shorts-type environment with not a lot of hitting going on, so I don't know if there's going to be a major tone other than a teaching environment."
Third-round draft choice Marques Anderson said he couldn't wait to get back into live action. Although he participated in the team's April mini-camp just after the NFL Draft, NCAA restrictions kept him home in California during the June mini-camp as well as many of the opportunity sessions.
Instead, he spent a great deal of time corresponding by phone with defensive backs coach Bob Slowik, watching videotapes and reviewing the playbook. As a result, Anderson said he felt "up to speed" on the team's defensive schemes and eager to prove it on the field.
"I'm ready to get out there and strap it up and put it on," Anderson said. "This is what I live for, I love football, I love the game and this is part of it."
Like Anderson, first-round draft choice Javon Walker said he was looking forward to training camp's more physical practices.
"Everybody looks good in shorts and a jersey, but I think time will tell when you put on pads," Walker said. "That kinds of separates people and I look forward to it, I look forward to getting banged around a little bit.
"I think that once I take that first hit I can honestly say I'm an NFL player now. I hope it's a hit I get back up from, but I think that's when I'll realize I'm here now."
Going into training camp, GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman said his largest goal for the coming season wasn't to immediately craft success on the football field, but to instill it first in the locker room.
Considering the extravagance of the Packers' new football-shaped expanse in the basement of the east wing at Lambeau Field, things seem off in the right direction in that department, but Sherman suggested that from within that massive locker room must come a team that's tightly knit.
"Making sure the locker room has a group of men in there that understand that the chemistry of this football team is of the utmost importance," Sherman said. "Unselfishness and being committed to the Green Bay Packers and team goals is critical for us. If you take care of the locker room, winning games takes care of itself."
To help ensure that team chemistry, Sherman said that since March he's been meeting with players whom he'd like to see step up into leadership roles. While he also wants his team to have a confident swagger, the hope is that the team will always come before the individual.
"I think everybody has an ego, but it has to be never something that supercedes what we're trying to do as a team, so I think in that melting pot, which is that locker room, they've got to mesh. If they mesh well, I think we'll have a pretty good team, if they don't . . . then you don't win games."
Even with the recent departure of noted team leader LeRoy Butler, who retired last week, Sherman said he likes the team's chemistry at the moment, of course how it will react under fire will be determined in a future date.
"The reality is, there's going to be adversity in the season," he said. "This team will face some adversity, whether it's on the field or off the field, we're going to face adversity...and it's how we handle that diversity which will define the character of this team."
Noting injuries, Sherman expects that second-year defensive end Jamal Reynolds will be able to compete at full-speed starting Saturday. Offensive tackle Kevin Jordan (knee), defensive back Bhawoh Jue (groin), fullback Najeh Davenport (foot), linebacker Nate Wayne (knee) and safety Antuan Edwards (knee) may see limited practice time for precautionary reasons.