Rookies Make Mini-Camp Debuts


Charles Lee

It wasn't always perfect, but then no one expected it to be. Friday morning at the Don Hutson Center, Javon Walker and the rest of rookies hit the practice field for the first time as Green Bay Packers.

With cameras clicking rapidly virtually every time he ran a route or touched the football, much of the attention was on the first-round draft choice out of Florida State. Which is not to say that all of Walker's routes ended up in the same location as the passes thrown his way, nor did every ball to touch his hands end up tucked into his chest.

However, considering some of the youth cycling through at quarterback behind Brett Favre, such mishaps probably can't be attributed to Walker alone.

Quite simply, it was what it was: the third day of mini-camp, the first day with rookies in uniform and, above all else, only April.

"The only thing I was looking for from these rookies was to see how competitive they were," General Manager/Head Coach Mike Sherman said. "They're still rookies, they have a long way to go."

And for the moment, the Packers have some time to wait for them to get there. From wide receiver to quarterback, defensive back to offensive lineman, the toughest adjustment on every first-year player's mind seemed to revolve around a playbook full of familiar Xs and Os, but a foreign terminology.

Quarterback Craig Nall, the fifth-round draft pick out of Northwestern State (La.), likened digesting the Packers' playbook to learning how to read. And trying to pick up the offense on the fly is a humbling experience when you're rotating in and out with a three-time MVP.

"I'm sitting there getting the play in my helmet and then looking at it and trying to figure out where everyone is lining up and (Favre's) out there joking around trying to fool the defense by going into a false cadence or giving them some motion," Nall said.

It's the kind of thing that happens in mini-camp.

Rookies started their day at 6:00 a.m. - and you had to feel for the guys who only a day ago were in the Western time zone - with physicals and uniform fittings and public relations photos. From there it was breakfast and team meetings so that by 10:30 a.m., they were at least somewhat prepared to take the field.

"I'm sure if you had to sit in his meetings and listen to all that he had to go through, you would understand," Sherman said of Nall's confusion. "I'm sure his head is swimming, but I saw him make some pretty nice throws.

"It's early in his development, but he certainly didn't disappoint me out there. His first throw was a little bit tentative, but after that (Offensive Coordinator) Tom (Rossley) talked to him and he let 'em rip after that."

It's all part of a balancing act employed by the coaching staff, wanting of course to see how fast their new recruits can adapt, while being patient enough so as not to leave anyone in the dust. All that they ask of the players in return is that their mistakes be made at full speed.

"I'm really looking for guys who are competing and who don't back down," Sherman said. "As I told the rookies last night, I want you to respect the veterans, but don't be intimidated by them. You have to compete with them."

And thus consider Walker, who may not have come down with every pass, but on more than one occasion could be seen tracking down balls that midway through his route seemed destined to connect with the carpet.

If only he'd known who'd thrown them.

Walker admitted that he applied so much of his concentration to route-running and wide receivers coach Ray Sherman's instruction that he rarely knew when he was hooking up with an NFL legend out of Kiln, Miss., or a kid who just finished playing college ball in Natchitoches, La., or anyone else in between. So much for that memorable first connection with a future Hall of Famer.

"As I get comfortable with the offense, I'll recognize what's going on and figure out who's throwing me the pass and who's not," Walker said. "Today was my first day and I think I did pretty well for my first day at practice."

There will be many more in which to improve.

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