Poppinga Benefits From 'Normal' Offseason

Brady Poppinga, as super-competitive and ultra-intense as any player on the Packers’ roster, might be the last one who would ever make excuses. So you’ll never hear him point to his extremely limited on-field practice and preparation last year for his slow start to the 2006 season. - More www.PackersTrainingCamp.com


Brady Poppinga, as super-competitive and ultra-intense as any player on the Packers' roster, might be the last one who would ever make excuses.

So you'll never hear him point to his extremely limited on-field practice and preparation last year for his slow start to the 2006 season. Poppinga admittedly had a rough day in pass coverage in the opener against the Bears, victimized by Chicago tight end Desmond Clark for most of his five catches and 77 yards, and made little impact in the early stages of the year.

But it's important to remember Poppinga not only was making just his second NFL start in that game, but he was doing so having returned to full speed in practice just three weeks earlier.

Having spent his entire offseason rehabilitating the knee he injured on Dec. 11, 2005 (his first NFL start), Poppinga had no mini-camps, no OTAs, no Family Night scrimmage and no full-time practice duty until Aug. 15 of last year. Poppinga got just two preseason games, only one of which he started, to get ready to be Green Bay's starting strong-side linebacker.

"I'm not going to say if it wasn't for that, I wouldn't have made those mistakes," Poppinga said. "I won't say that."

What he will say is that this season has an entirely different feel to it, and it's because he hasn't been encumbered with rehab off the field or playing catch-up on it. Last year, before he was cleared to return to practice, Poppinga would watch the team (11-on-11) drills in training camp from the sideline trying to stay mentally engaged.

But for a player still making the transition from collegiate defensive end to professional linebacker, that approach only went so far.

"You can stand back there all you want and try to see it, but unless you're out there actually moving and reacting to it, it does you no good," Poppinga said. "So to be out there and being able to train, ... you can't even explain it - it's a night and day difference.

"You're seeing things you have to react to. Because that's what it is at linebacker is reaction, and the only way to really hone in on that is to see it as you're going to see it in a game, day in and day out. Repetition."

Poppinga is getting plenty of repetitions this summer - he has taken all the snaps with the No. 1 defense throughout camp thus far - and the coaching staff couldn't be more pleased with what they've seen.

{sportsad300}Defensive coordinator Bob Sanders accurately describes Poppinga as an "intense, hard-working, loyal, want-to guy," and it was those traits that helped the solid run defender (lost in the Week 1 game against Chicago were his 11 tackles, including nine solo) improve his pass coverage as the 2006 season went along. He snagged his first NFL interception in Week 7 at Miami, and he posted three of his five passes defensed on the season in the final four games.

"We worked at it," linebackers coach and new assistant head coach Winston Moss said. "He was always positive about it. He never got down on himself."

Those improvements have carried over to 2007, and Sanders said there's no question the difference has been the amount of time Poppinga has been able to spend on the field.

"It doesn't matter what position you play, being in there and being with your teammates, and seeing it and feeling it and feeling the speed of the game, and playing against good people and hearing the calls and executing the calls and learning from your mistakes, you can only grow as a player," Sanders said. "He's getting off the spot quicker, he's recognizing things quicker, his coverage is better. He's improved a lot, and hopefully we've improved as a defense around him to help him, too."

All that practice time has ended whatever may have been left of the transition from defensive end, as Poppinga now calls himself a "full-blown linebacker," particularly as the position relates to pass coverage.

"It's just about doing it, that's all it is," he said. "When you're a D-end, all you do is drive forward. Rarely, once in every 100 plays, you might drop into coverage. But it's just a matter of doing it, like anything in life. You're obviously not going to be good the very first time you do it as the 10th, 20th, 30th, 50th time.

"There's always that learning curve, and the same for being a linebacker, especially in this defense when we do so much man-to-man. That's the toughest coverage that exists. It's taken me a little bit to really get that down, and I needed time. There's no way I could all of a sudden just do it without teaching my body and teaching myself how to do it. You can't just walk out and do it. You have to train for it."

Poppinga's freedom to concentrate solely on the physical preparations to play without the added psychological burden of returning from an injury has aided his development as well.

Recalling his return to practice last year, Poppinga described each snap as double-duty, saying "not only did I have to overcome this 300-pound lineman in front of me, but I also had to overcome the fears of being re-injured.

"So now I can just focus on my job. You don't neglect the body, because if you're not healthy you can't be out there. But to not have to really worry about it, have to overcome that, and to be pretty much free and clear of that is a relief."

And a relieved Poppinga can only be a more focused one. It would be impossible for Poppinga to get any more competitive or intense, but the change is that all his energies now are channeled in one direction.

"I want to dominate, and that's a reflection of our defense," he said. "I think every player on our team would say the same thing. We want to dominate."

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