Swain Making Strides In Second Year


Wide receiver Brett Swain will be the first to admit that he wasn't ready to contribute to the Packers' 53-man roster last season, but his time on the practice squad and hard work in the offseason has moved him into the mix for a roster spot in 2009.

There is no doubt that Swain faces an uphill battle at a position that kept five wideouts on the roster last season in Donald Driver, Greg Jennings, James Jones, Jordy Nelson and Ruvell Martin, all of whom return this season. Even with all of that depth, Swain has caught the eyes of the coaches in his second training camp.

"He is really a much improved player," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. "He is a very sound, fundamental route runner. I really like what he does in that area, and he is catching the ball well. He's working his butt off blocking.

"The guy is just a better football player all around than he was last season. He's playing faster. He is more confident in what he is doing out here, and that is showing in the precision in his route running. Brett has been impressive."

Swain has displayed his improved pass-catching skills in the opening two weeks of camp as well as his poise returning punts, evidenced in the opener against Cleveland when he ran up to field a third-quarter punt at Green Bay's 32-yard line.

"I think he is playing with a lot more confidence," Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. "He did a real nice job on special teams in the game against Cleveland. I thought he did an excellent job particularly in the return game coming up on that one punt in all of the traffic.

"But he is a much improved player. He's had some tough opportunities and we just want to see if he can take that next step."

Drafted in the seventh round of the 2008 NFL Draft out of San Diego State, Swain appeared overmatched last offseason. Given a chance at both wide receiver and punt returner, he looked tentative in the return game and had problems hanging onto the ball as a pass catcher.

Swain attributed much of those struggles to not being prepared physically for the jump from college to the NFL.

"A big emphasis last year was strength, speed, physicality, and it just wasn't there," Swain said. "My body wasn't ready last year. I was sore, I was tired, and most of the time I wasn't feeling good. A focus this offseason was getting into the weight room and getting bigger and stronger to be able to compete with guys like Al Harris and Charles Woodson because those guys are very strong players and they'll push you around a little bit.

"I didn't want that to happen again. I wanted to be a physical player and I wanted to be able to get in there and get around these guys and be able to make plays."

The 6-foot Swain, listed at 203 pounds, looks noticeably bigger compared to last season, adding muscle and strength, especially in his upper body. He said he concentrated on improving his balance and core strength, as well as adding the upper-body strength, speed and agility.

Following a 2008 preseason that saw Swain catch five passes for 28 yards, he was released in the final roster cutdown at the end of camp, but was given an opportunity to stick with the Packers on the practice squad. While admitting that he had some disappointment initially, Swain quickly turned his energies to making the most of another chance with the team.

"I kind of knew that it was coming (getting cut)," Swain said. "I wasn't really prepared last year. I set my mindset that if I really want to do this at this level, you've got to come here and you've got to work hard, especially being a seventh-round draft pick coming into one of the best receiving corps in the NFL. You've got to really be ready, and last year I wasn't.

"And it took me a while to learn the playbook. I probably wasn't really clicking until mid-season last year. As soon as it came, I was able to jump in on the reps that I got and really concentrate on what I needed to do. It took a while and it wasn't easy for me. I came from a college that really didn't run an NFL-style offense. Once I got into it and learned the concepts, it started clicking for me and I was more confident in the routes that I was running."

While working with a deep, experienced receiving corps made making the team that much harder, the tradeoff for a young player like Swain was the knowledge he was able to glean from players like Driver and Jennings.

{sportsad300}"I work around Jennings and Driver and they shape you as a player," Swain said. "They helped me in every area. It's in watching film, on the field, in the weight room, even when you are not here. What are you doing to get better?

"Everybody is just continually getting better here and that is what is so crazy about this league. A guy like Driver is going into his 11th year and he is just continually getting better. You watch that as a young player and you've got to form yourself to be able to do that, get better every day."

The reception Swain got from his fellow receivers during his rookie campaign was much appreciated, but also unexpected.

"The word from college to here from guys that have been in the league was kind of every man for himself, but nobody had been with the Packers," Swain said. "I got here and it's really a team emphasis here, especially with the older guys. They try to bring the young guys around. They look up for you and they stick up for you, and you've got to relay that to people that come in after you.

"I try to help guys out too because in the end everybody is looking for the same goal. We are all working for the same thing and in this league you never know what is going to happen."

Swain knows that if he has any chance of making the final roster, it will be imperative that he makes an impact on special teams, either in the return game or covering and blocking on kicks.

Regardless of what might happen the rest of the preseason, Swain said his focus will be on the things that he can control, and he can accept whatever comes after that.

"You've got to always have your goals and try to reach those goals, and the goal is that everybody wants to make the team," Swain said. "You've got to do everything you can in training camp to do that, and if it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen. That's the way this business works. You have to stay confident, prepared, and focused, and you can't get down on yourself.

"Once you get down on yourself, things start to go south and your confidence goes and you start losing it. All of your work ethic is being seen on film and you never know what is going to happen."

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