Time Is Now For Nall

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In so many ways, this has been the offseason in which Craig Nall's life has come together.

Since the 2003 season ended in January, Nall has purchased a house in his hometown of Alexandria, La., and two Jack Russell Terrier puppies to run around inside it.

Just last week, he became engaged to his girlfriend of three years, proposing on the couple's week-long trip to Hawaii.

But for all the ways Nall's private life is settling down, his professional career is still in a state of transition.

A fifth-round selection in the 2002 NFL Draft, Nall has spent the past two seasons as the Packers' No. 3 quarterback. But if there has ever been a time to take the next step and win the backup job behind Brett Favre, it's now. And Nall knows it.

"I think Coach (Darrell) Bevell probably put it best," Nall said recently, recalling a conversation with his position coach. "He said: 'The honeymoon period is over.'

"It's the last year of my contract, so I need to come in and show the coaches I'm ready to work hard and improve myself so that I can be in this league for a long time."

Nall will get a chance to start proving his readiness Wednesday, when the Packers open their five-day mini-camp with a practice for veterans.

A year ago at this time, Nall was overseas getting much-needed experience in NFL Europe. But after leading the NFL's developmental league in touchdown passes last spring, Nall needs to demonstrate that those same skills can apply stateside.

"It's important for him in these mini-camps to show the progress that he's made," Bevell said. "He's made great steps in NFL-E and in his individual preparation drills, but he needs to transfer that from drills to his play. He was good running the offense in NFL-E, but he needs to show he can be efficient running our offense."

After two seasons in the Packers' system, Nall feels equipped to do just that.

Although playing for the Scottish Claymores was a positive experience, Nall said he struggled to catch up with the Packers in training camp last year. Now, after an offseason of conditioning, he feels he's ready to perform.

"I have to have the mindset that I'm vying for a starting job," said Nall, who will be one of as many as five quarterbacks at mini-camp this week, depending on the team's dealings with unrestricted free agent Doug Pederson, Cleveland Browns veteran Tim Couch and undrafted free agent Scott McBrien. "That's really what the No. 2 job is if something ever happens to Brett.

"I want to be able to step in. I mean, it's cool being on the team and all of that, but there comes a point where it's kind of old. You want to keep moving on in your career and bettering yourself."

If Nall is still waiting for his big break on the field, off the field the maturation process has been moving in leaps and bounds.

A devout Christian, Nall said he's increased his focus on religion ever since joining the Packers, and in turn has eliminated some of the distractions of his youth.

"Compared to the last few years, I feel like I'm a lot more mature," said Nall, who turned 25 last week. "Now, instead of partying on the weekends, I'm focused on fixing up my house: painting, putting up a fence, grown-up stuff like that.

"There comes a point where I've done all the other stuff and it's time to move on. That's kind of the point I'm at right now."

Professionally, however, Nall admits he still has a lot of growing up to do. Even if he is to win the No. 2 job in training camp this summer, he'll enter the 2004 campaign having never attempted a pass in an NFL regular-season game.

Until he does, Nall said there will remain a shred of doubt. But if he's yet to prove that he can succeed at football's highest level, he's yet to be shown that he can't either.

"I just haven't played a whole lot," Nall said. "I'm anxious to see how I perform in those situations, because once I'm able to step in and play with confidence the sky is the limit.

"Seeing Brett and Doug, and how relaxed they are, I envy that. I want to get to that point, but I have to get on the field to do it."

This week, Nall will get a chance to prove that he belongs.

Mini-Camp Practice Schedule:

Wed., April 28: 11 a.m. (veterans only)

Thurs., April 29: 11 a.m. (veterans only)

Fri., April 30: 10:30 a.m. (veterans/rookies); 2:45 p.m. (rookies & selected veterans)

Sat., May 1: 10:30 a.m. (veterans/rookies); 2:45 p.m. (rookies & selected veterans)

Sun., May 2: 9:30 a.m. (rookies & selected veterans)

All practices are scheduled to be held on Clarke Hinkle Field, where they are free and open to the public. However, practices will be closed if poor weather/field conditions force them to be moved inside the Don Hutson Center.

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