Taking Care Of Sherman's Favorite Player
In order for the Packers to have success on special teams, they must find a sure-handed holder for kicker Ryan Longwell.
"I would not say I'm totally comfortable with any of them. B.J. (Sander) is the one guy that's ahead of the pack," said Longwell, who nailed 24-of-28 field goal attempts last year. "The ball's still not starting exactly where I am aiming."
Longwell has missed only one field goal attempt during training camp, but the perfectionist has not always hit the exact area of the net he targets.
"It's not satisfactory to my standards," he said.
Punter Bryan Baker held for the team in 2004. Although Sander appears to be the odds-on favorite to win the position this year, he must first beat out Bryce Benekos for punter.
Longwell likes Sander's chances in the intense competition.
"There's a lot of pressure on him and he knows that," he said of the second-year punter. "He's much more mature, much more humble."
The team might turn to an unusual source as holder -- wide receiver Javon Walker. Although the St. Louis Rams have used wide receiver Dane Looker in that capacity, teams ordinarily use a punter or quarterback as holder. Longwell, however, said Walker has potential.
"Obviously he's got great hands, and it looks like he's catching on pretty quick," he said. "He may be in the mix before very long."
Whoever lands the punting job will have to make Longwell more at ease.
"I want him to feel very comfortable because he's my favorite player," Coach Mike Sherman joked. "I want you to tell him I said that."
Defense Has Something To Prove
Judging by the morning practice, several media outlets who have ripped the Packers' defense that ranked 25th in the league last year, may want to second guess themselves.
"I thought the defense did a good job," Sherman said. "They practiced and played like they had a chip on their shoulder and they need to play that way the whole year."
The defense picked up near the end of the morning. Defensive backs Al Harris, Julius Curry and Chris Day each intercepted passes.
"Everything was cleaner," Bates said. "Today we were better than we were yesterday."
Day and Curry, who both went to training camp with the team last year, were not the only young players to contribute.
After strong play during the OTAs, cornerback Leigh Torrence, an undrafted rookie free agent from Stanford, struggled during the first week of training camp.
Although he still faces a steep challenge to make the roster, he made an impression on the coaching staff during Sunday's practices. On one play, he broke up an Aaron Rodgers pass intended for wide receiver Jamal Jones.
"He had his best day," Bates said. "He came out and made some very good plays."
Rookie cornerback Mike Hawkins also earned Bates' plaudits. A sore hamstring kept Hawkins out of the first few days of training camp.
A decorated high school player, Hawkins played one season of college football at the University of Oklahoma in 2002 before joining the Arena League.
"He hasn't played a lot of football, but he's extremely talented," Bates said. "He has tremendous skills. He just has to learn the system and learn how to compete."
Quarterback Brett Favre had his best training camp performance, perhaps shedding the cob webs from his long layoff.
He ran the 7-on-7 drill like clockwork, throwing a dart to wide receiver Donald Driver. He then completed passes to Antonio Chatman and Ahman Green. Toward the end of the team scrimmage, Favre lofted a scoring ball to Green, who charged to the end zone.
"I think he's done a very nice job," quarterbacks coach Darrell Bevell said of Favre. "I'm very pleased."
Despite the 15-year-veteran's hot start, the defense bettered him on a few plays down the stretch. Harris read one of his passes and jumped it for an interception. On another play, Curry picked off a pass that caromed off of Walker's hands.
Favre has always been a fan favorite, but the crowd erupted when a strong pass rush forced him to take off down the field. Displaying his increased mobility, he ran 25 yards untouched.
The hundreds of fans watching Sunday morning's practice were not the only ones to enjoy his presence.
"Life is good when you're playing with Brett Favre," Rodgers said after their first training camp practice together. "It doesn't feel like training camp when Brett's out here. He's cracking jokes and having fun. ... Brett is hilarious. I can't wait for the relationship to grow."
Linebackers Are In Flux
Middle linebacker Nick Barnett occupies the only settled position on the starting linebacker corps.
"All the linebackers have a lot to prove," defensive coordinator Jim Bates said. "We'll see how everything works out during the course of the preseason as to who's going to be our first string, and who's going to be our backups."
Hannibal Navies is starting at a new position. The strongside linebacker plays a few yards off the line of scrimmage after playing on the line of scrimmage in 2004. Bates, however, said his outside linebackers could change positions later in training camp.
"We're flipping them back and forth," he said. "They're interchangeable and we just have to find the best combination between the guys at those positions."
Navies started 14 games last year and racked up 73 tackles despite injuring his shoulder during Week One.
"We took that into consideration," Bates said.
Many observers thought Ray Thompson, an offseason free agent acquisition would start at weakside linebacker because his fluid athleticism and closing speed seemed perfect for Bates' aggressive defense.
"I'm a fast linebacker," Thompson said. "It fits my style of play. In the past I've played in several different defensive schemes. This is one of my favorites."
Thompson has not yet cracked the first team, but Bates praised his performance, particularly his maturity and professionalism.
"He's making good progress," Bates said. "He's been very focused and he's playing well. I'm excited about what he's done so far in camp."
The former Arizona Cardinal can still earn a starting spot.
"They all have shots right now," Bates said. "This thing's a long way from being worked out."
Quick Hits: Following his Jenny Craig Inc. success story, RB Najeh Davenport continues to look fleet of foot. He bounced outside for a 15-yard gain during the morning session. ... TE David Martin is day-to-day with a groin injury, leaving only three active tight ends for Sunday's practice. ... Despite a calf strain, CB Joey Thomas participated in the afternoon session. ... Sherman called LB Brady Poppinga's hamstring strain the most severe of the injuries but said: "I don't think that's going to transfer into a long range deal."... Wide Receiver Sam Breeden did not practice because of a hip flexor injury. ... Al Harris did not practice during the afternoon, but the Packers do not consider his toe injury serious.