A particularly spirited crowd lined the fences surrounding Clarke Hinkle Field for Thursday's morning practice. Organized chants of "Go Pack Go!" could be heard amongst the wild cheers and screams that followed every caught ball.
Led by NFL referee Bill Carollo, in town to discuss rule changes for the coming season, league officials made their debut at practice today, first overseeing running plays, during which fullback William Henderson earned a pat on the back from virtually every coach in the vicinity for his outstanding blocks. Guard Marco Rivera, who has started in 66 of the Packers' last 67 games, also performed well, helping blaze trails for the running backs.
Pro Bowl tight end Bubba Franks was a popular target today for both Brett Favre and backup quarterback Doug Pederson. Favre, under pressure from defensive end Vonnie Holliday, made a desperation pass over the middle to Franks, who fearlessly left his feet to snag it.
Like Tuesday, Thursday's afternoon practice was devoted to special teams. With the backup punter and kicker having been waived in the last two days to make room for new players, the workload fell on the legs of punter Josh Bidwell and kicker Ryan Longwell. Early on, strong winds forced the ball to sail over the heads of return men Darrien Gordon and Rondell Mealey, until they were able to adjust.
It's no secret that Longwell struggled at times during the Packers' 2001 campaign, but the kicker remains confident. "I've had four great years here, and a great half-year last year," he said. "Yes, (2001) was a disappointment by my standards, but I feel like I've addressed all the necessary issues. I know I belong here."
When asked to rank himself among all NFL kickers, Longwell promptly responded, "Top-five, definitely."
Friday's practices will be held from 8:45-11:25 a.m., and 2:45-4:10 p.m., at Clarke Hinkle Field, weather and field conditions permitting.
-- by Leslie Ricker