Talented Receiver Looks To Impress During Last Two Games

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Usually when a team acquires someone on waivers with two games to play, they pick someone off the scrap heap.

Instead the Packers landed wide receiver Rod Gardner, the 15th overall pick in the 2001 draft and a player who caught 71 passes for 1,006 yards and eight touchdowns in 2002.

"We'll take a look at him and see how he fits into what we do," Head Coach Mike Sherman said. "He may be a red zone threat at some point. He may be even more that. We just don't know at this point where he is."

Waived by the Carolina Panthers on Dec. 16, Gardner, who has 236 catches for 3,081 yards (13.1-yard average) and 23 touchdowns in 74 career games, expected to sign with a new team during the offseason or join a playoff team looking to replace an injured playmaker in January.

"It's a good situation," Gardner said. "But it was surprising to me. Knowing there are only two games left in the season, I didn't think it would happen right now."

Gardner's acquisition by the Packers makes sense for both parties. The Packers receive a chance to evaluate an obvious talent during the remainder of the season while Gardner has the opportunity to latch on in Green Bay instead of testing the free agent waters.

Although Gardner has expressed his readiness to play in Sunday's game against the Chicago Bears, Sherman deemed it too early to make that decision.

"There's a chance," Sherman said. "It depends on how he adapts to what we're teaching him."

The obvious question becomes why a player with such potential did not stick on with either the Washington Redskins or the Panthers. The Redskins drafted him with high expectations, and he enjoyed a breakout season with them in 2002. But they went through three head coaches -- Marty Schottenheimer, Steve Spurrier and Joe Gibbs -- during Gardner's four-year tenure. Each coach brought in a different offensive scheme, making for a difficult adjustment.

"It was always a change," Gardner said. "It was hard to develop when you get used to one way, and the coaches know what you can do and you know what they're gonna do, and the next day here we go again, starting over."

The Panthers traded for him in July as an insurance policy for wide receiver Steve Smith. According to Gardner, the team had concerns about how Smith would recover from a broken leg suffered during Week 1 of the 2004 season. Smith, a Comeback Player of the Year candidate, has rebounded triumphantly to lead the NFL in receptions and receiving yards, and the Panthers never found a place for Gardner. He played 10 games this season, catching nine passes for 84 yards with one touchdown

"Coach (John) Fox is a good guy, but at the same time I didn't think I was being used," Gardner said. "When I wasn't getting an opportunity, being the competitor I was, I thought it was time to make a move."

Gardner moved to Green Bay -- a team that could use a playmaking wide receiver. Javon Walker injured his knee in Week 1 and did not play again this season. Talented rookie wide receiver Terrence Murphy hurt his neck in Week 4, and the Packers placed him on injured reserve as well. Gardner said he can fill that void.

"I'm ready to play," Gardner said. "All I've got is motivation."

The 6-foot-2, 215-pounder's skills impressed Sherman when the Packers evaluated him coming out of college in 2001.

"He was a big body who could make catches in crowds and had leaping ability," Sherman said.

Al Harris echoed Sherman's observations. He played against him twice-a-year when Harris played for the Philadelphia Eagles and Gardner played for the Redskins.

"Rod will bring a new dimension. He's a big, physical guy," Harris said. "He can give us a spark."

And Gardner sees himself as just that.

"I'm all for the Packers. Hey, let's get this thing turned around," he said. "What other better organization can (you join)? They have the greatest fans I've seen by far."

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