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Packers Rookies and First-Year Players Return To Work


As Packers rookies, first-year players and quarterbacks Craig Nall and J.T. O'Sullivan returned to Ray Nitschke Field for the first time since the organized team activities in June, practice was not about jaw-dropping hits. Instead the players focused on mastering the schemes, honing their technique and working off a bit of rust during the first day of training camp.

"As a rookie it's invaluable because things will slow down to the point where they can really learn and blossom and have some success," Head Coach Mike Sherman said. "Once the vets come to camp, things are accelerated and the numbers and reps decrease. So the opportunity to learn is best here."

That learning curve is particularly important to Brady Poppinga, a fourth-round selection from Brigham Young University, who played defensive end before moving to the position he will play in the pros -- linebacker.

He has started to grasp his new responsibilities.

"I just improved a lot in terms of the scheme and the strategy and getting to know what's expected of me," said Poppinga, who has already signed his rookie contract. "It's good to know what you're doing instead of running around like a chicken with its head cut off."

The Packers will not practice in pads until Friday, which represents a unique challenge to several players who thrive on the game's physical nature.

Poppinga, like many of the defensive players, cannot take on ballcarriers in the same way without pads. He has learned to get out of their path and not initiate the contact.

"It's a lot different ... You've got to have a different tempo when you go to the ball," he said. "That's how you play the game -- with pads. That's how I've done it since I was a young, little buck."

Added defensive tackle James Lee: "I'm ready to put the pads on."

The Packers broke into different position groups and spent the first half of both practices working on individual drills. A section devoted to special teams followed.

Cornerback Chris Day made the highlight of the subsequent seven-on-seven and team drills in the morning. He swatted down a Nall pass intended for Chad Lucas.

A scary moment occurred in the afternoon practice when a defensive player stepped on Nall's ankle. It looked like the injury would sideline the No. 2 quarterback, who missed the first two-and-a-half weeks of last year's training camp. Instead he returned after sitting briefly.

"My whole foot was burning from the top all the way to the bottom. I guess they stepped on a nerve or something and my foot went numb for a second," he said. "I'm sure I'll have a nice bruise."

The first practice also represented a time for healthy players to return to action after injury.

Lee missed all of 2003 with a back injury, and a knee injury sidelined him for all but nine games last year.

"Being healthy the whole season - that's one goal and just being out there on the field making plays," he said. "It's like my rookie season all over again."

Cornerback Jason Horton is finally healthy as well and received his first football action since last year. A lung infection, sarcoidosis, required March surgery to remove a lymph node, but he said he is approaching 100 percent.

"I felt pretty good, but I was a little gassed," he said after his first practice of the year.

The coaching staff will watch Horton closely before letting him go full bore. He did not participate in the afternoon session.

"We have to be very smart with him and really monitor what he's doing and how he's doing and make sure we protect him until we get to that point where we can give him a green light," Sherman said. "I don't feel like we're there just yet."

Although Sherman said the overcast and chilly conditions (68 degrees) made it feel more like November than July, child cyclists still escorted the players to practice. A couple hundred more watched the afternoon practice from beyond the gates at Ray Nitschke Field.

Poppinga could relate to the fans' enthusiasm.

"If I was fan, I'd be doing the same thing because I'm obsessed with the game," he said. "I'm just happy I can give entertainment to them."

Notes: Chris Johnson (failed physical), Roy Manning (oblique) and Seante Williams (infection) did not practice in either session. Both Brennan Curtin and Corey Williams, who were hampered by injuries last year, passed their physicals.

*For more information about the Green Bay Packers' Training Camp, please visit


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