Positive Reviews For April Mini-Camp


Mike Sherman

April mini-camp means about as much to a football team as an inventory check means to a guy about to climb Mt. Everest. It's essential, sure, but no matter how thorough you are, the hard stuff lies ahead.

So after five days of practice, General Manager/Head Coach Mike Sherman comes away with little more than a checklist comparing the needs his team has met with those that remain to be addressed.

For veterans, his top priority was to see that players returned with a positive attitude ready to work. Obviously Sherman liked what he saw, as he dismissed veterans from participating in Sunday's final practice.

"One thing we talked about is every time you step on the field to develop your skill," Sherman said. "I think we did that this past week . . . I thought it was a very productive camp for the veterans."

For the rookies, Sherman wanted the same effort. However, knowing that mistakes were going to be made in the early stages of the learning process, he wanted also to see some indication that the Packers' scouting reports were on the money.

"I think you always worry that someone won't live up to expectations," Sherman said of the newcomers. "I think everyone did. I was pleased by the draft picks and the free agent pool."

Although Sherman refused to single out any player, perhaps the biggest bright spot in camp was the development of wide receiver Robert Ferguson who time and again this week was praised for having added muscle to his 6-1 frame, while improving his grasp of the West Coast offense.

Comparing the Ferguson of this April's mini-camp with that of last year's when he was a rookie, was like "night and day," Sherman said.

"He was a junior coming out early (last season) and we knew we were getting a younger player," Sherman said. "He's really grown this past season. He's very hungry because he hasn't played a whole lot.

"Yes, I wish he had played more last year, but I also think that the fact he didn't play made him a hungrier player, and has really challenged him this year to be the player that everybody - including himself - hopes we will be."

Brett Favre also noticed a difference in Ferguson, calling his maturation perhaps the most obvious on the team.

"Robert Ferguson is probably the guy I'm most pleased with, and as I stood here last year he was probably the guy I was most suspect on," Favre said. "He didn't play any last year . . . but as the season progressed and we were winding down, he was probably the one guy that stayed in it and gave us the most production and seemed to catch on in the latter part of the season.

"That's important. In my first season in Atlanta, I don't know if I remember the second half of the season. They had lost me after training camp."

Speaking of training camp, that is the point by which the Packers hope their greatest mystery might be solved: Who is going to return punts?

The team sampled a number of different players at the position this week ranging from wide receiver Scott Frost, to Richard Lewis, a rookie out of North Dakota State. The consensus is that the Packers have a lot of talent at the position, just not a clear favorite.

Sherman's one hope is that whoever steps in at punt-returner can double at another position and make his job of setting a 45-man roster much easier. In the case of Lewis, for example, Sherman praised his return skills but noted that he would probably be sixth on the depth chart at receiver, a position at which the Packers usually only carry four players on their 45-man roster.

Thus, to add a pure punt returner would mean making a cut elsewhere.

"Those are tough decisions," Sherman said. "Everybody wants us to get a return man on the staff, but I guarantee you none of those coaches are willing to give up a player at their position to justify (a pure returner)," Sherman said. "It's just the matter of finding the right guy and getting him his reps."


The early word on fullback Najeh Davenport, the Packers' fourth-round selection out of Miami, is that his injured foot will not require surgery, Sherman said Sunday.

Team doctors are prescribing rest and are hopeful that he could be ready to play by the beginning of the season.

While he didn't participate in any team drills during the week, Sherman said Davenport demonstrated solid knowledge of the offense when tested.

"With that body type and his catching ability and his running skill, I think he will benefit us greatly in due time," Sherman said.

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