Packers' Receivers Look To Fill Javon Walker's Void


When wide receiver Javon Walker went down with a season-ending knee injury on Sunday, it meant other Packers wide receivers had to step up.

"We'll be fairly resilient," head coach Mike Sherman said. "This is an opportunity for Fergie and Murphy and Chatman to step forward."

Walker led Packers receivers with 89 receptions, 1,382 yards and 12 touchdowns last year. Both coaches and players expressed confidence in the other recievers' ability to replace Walker's production.

"I hate for it to happen like this," Robert Ferguson said. "But I hope I get involved in the offense a little bit more."

The Packers likely will lean more heavily on the five-year veteran with 84 career catches. At 6-1, 210, Ferguson has a similar body type to Walker.

"Fergie for us this year has to step up and be that big play receiver," Sherman said. "We have to be able to count on him."

The Packers could look outside the organization to add depth.

"We're looking at our options, regarding receivers that are out there and available to us," Sherman said.

Walker tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during the third quarter of Sunday's game versus the Detroit Lions while trying to haul in a 55-yard Brett Favre sideline pass. The injury will take eight to 12 months of rehabilitation, and he will have surgery once the substantial swelling subsides.

Walker's greatest strength might have been his ability as a deep threat. His 17.5 yards-per-reception was the second highest in the league in 2003 among receivers with at least 25 catches. The young receivers said they could stretch the field.

"I thrive on deep balls too," Antonio Chatman said. "We all can go deep."

Chatman, the team's punt returner, becomes the No. 3 wide receiver. He will have to grow accustomed to playing extensively on offense and on special teams. He became winded toward the end of the Sunday's game because all of his extra responsibilities.

"I've got to get used to all those reps," he said.

While Chatman takes on more offensive duties, Ferguson may take on less special teams work. Elevated to the No. 2 wide receiver, he may no longer serve as a punt returner. Having to handle both duties left him dehydrated on Sunday. He cramped up and needed intravenous fluids in the third quarter.

The Packers will miss Walker's ability to use his 6-3 frame and leaping ability to beat defenders to the ball.

"We took him on his ability to torque his body and to make a big catch," Sherman said. "And he's proved to be every bit as much as that."

Chatman lacks Walkers' height, but the 5-9 Chatman has other skills. Instead of muscling past defenders or leaping above them for the ball, Chatman uses his speed to beat cornerbacks, who press him on the line of scrimmage.

"I'm the quickest receiver we've got," Chatman said.

Rookie Terrence Murphy could handle the workload too. During organized team activities, he showed soft hands, good speed and a knack for producing yards after the catch. But first a hip injury and then a knee injury forced the second-round draft pick to miss most of training camp and Sunday's regular season opener.

"I like everything about him," Sherman said. "He hasn't done anything to make me nervous, but he hasn't been exposed a whole lot. I'm glad we have him."

He practiced every day last week before the training staff recommended he sit out the Lions game. Murphy said he is day-to-day.

"There's a sense of urgency to push the envelope and get him ready to play this week," Sherman said. "From a health standpoint, he looked fine to me -- obviously a little rusty from a playing standpoint. Hopefully we can work through some of that in the next two days."

In the last two days, many of the players have talked to Walker. Ferguson called him on the phone, and Murphy left text messages, saying he was praying for him.

Considering the severity of the injury, Walker was in good spirits, according to Sherman. When a downcast Sherman saw him exit the airplane in a wheelchair, the wide receiver cheered him up by telling him he would recover from the injury faster than anyone ever has.

"I'm in the tank and he's picking me up," Sherman said. "He uplifted me."

The Packers receivers will have replace Walker's character as well as his receiving ability.

Players, coaches and trainers have given Murphy an earful to prepare him for those roles, but the precocious rookie welcomes them.

"Who hasn't said something to me in the last 24 hours?" Murphy said. "I was planning on stepping up any way."

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