Warmer weather and sunny skies were in order as the Green Bay Packers again practiced twice Thursday at Clarke Hinkle Field. Approximately 1,600 fans viewed from just outside the fence surrounding the training camp field as the Packers' morning practice got underway at 8:45.
Veterans Na'il Diggs, Ahman Green, William Henderson, Mark Roman and Darren Sharper were all given the day off of contact drills.
GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman said that Green (foot) and Roman (hamstring) were nursing soreness and Diggs and Sharper were given time to rest as the coaches took a longer look at some younger players in camp. Henderson missed practice with an illness.
The morning workout was highlighted by some big pops as players were going at full speed throughout the 90-minute session. Sherman said that he cut the workout short of its original schedule, but he was very pleased with the practice.
"We ended practice about 45 minutes earlier than usual today," he said. "The guys have been responding real well. We practiced at a fast pace. In the middle of the week, a long week, with fatigue setting in, I wanted to shorten it up and have increased intensity. I thought we did that and got done what we wanted to get done today."
For the second straight day, the defense played a starring in role in the day's events.
An early team drill saw Najeh Davenport gang-tackled by a swarm of players in green jerseys. Grady Jackson blew threw the line and then nearly blew threw Tony Fisher as he delivered the hit of the day with a perfect form tackle, sending Driver back and to the ground with a quickness.
In a later goal line drill, Brett Favre delivered a shovel pass to fullback Nick Luchey, but he was stopped well short of the end zone as Aaron Kampman met him in the hole and brought him to the ground.
Linebacker Nick Barnett, who plays the "sweeper" position in the goal line defense, then put on a display, stopping three plays in a row. The biggest highlight of the sequence came when Barnett picked off a pass from Doug Pederson and took off down the sideline in the opposite direction.
In punting exercises, B.J. Sander skied kicks towards return men Antonio Chatman, Robert Ferguson, Carl Ford and James Whitley.
Full-team drills rounded out the practice, with Favre connecting with Javon Walker on a pretty pass for 20 yards early in the segment. Davenport got back at the defense with some power running through the right side.
Barnett continued his stellar practice when he flashed his speed, chasing down Fisher at the line of scrimmage near the sideline. Jackson got his hand into a passing lane and batted down a Favre pass.
The solid popping continued as safety Curtis Fuller met receiver Sam Breeden just as the ball arrived on a pass from Pederson. Breeden withstood the blow and held on to the ball in the corner of the end zone.
A loud hit from Michael Hawthorne on running back Walter Williams dazed the cornerback, and saw him leave the field just before the end of practice, but he would return for the afternoon session.
Defensive end Kenny Peterson was not fooled on an end around play, and stopped Ford in the backfield for a five-yard loss.
The action-packed practice ended as Whitley picked off a pass from Tim Couch that bounced off the hands of Kris Briggs and sped off toward the end zone, in what would have been a sure TD in a game situation.
The intensity carried over to Thursday afternoon's practice, but the popping was much less prevalent as the players practiced in helmets and shorts after the mid-day break. Favre got the afternoon off, with Couch and Pederson taking nearly all the reps in the mostly 11-on-11 workout.
Couch looked to connect with Walker early in the practice, but Hawthorne laid out to make a nice diving pass break-up. The QB wasn't discouraged, as he came back on the next play to hit Ford on a 35-yard pass down the right sideline.
Fuller, who just missed a big play in the morning's workout, jumped high in the air to intercept a ball off the right hand of Couch. Peterson found himself in an unfamiliar predicament, as the lineman snared a Couch offering and zigged and zagged through the offense on the return.
Fisher later made a nice pick-up of a safety blitz, giving Couch all the time he needed to loft a frozen rope to hit Donald Driver in full stride as he had gotten behind his man down the middle of the field.
Walker proved his athleticism as he turned quarterback for a play and threw a perfect spiral 35 yards to Driver on a reverse pass.
The goal line drill in the afternoon didn't turn out much better than the morning's attempt for the offense. Bhawoh Jue blanketed Dahrran Diedrick out of the backfield on two pass plays, first riding him out of bounds for no gain and then breaking up a pass from Scott McBrien.
Peterson showed up again as he thwarted a Walter Williams run over the left side.
The first-line defense prevailed again as the practice came to a close with a two-minute drill. With Couch quarterbacking the first offense and attempting a late-game scoring drive, he faced constant pressure and was forced to throw a pass short of the sticks on fourth-and-long, which killed the drive.
Pederson led the second unit into scoring position in the final plays of the day. He first rolled out and completed a pass to Chatman for a fourth down conversion, and then tallied consecutive completions to Shockmain Davis and Sam Breeden, before spiking the ball with :01 on the clock to set up a winning field goal and end the day's events.
Friday will see the Packers hold their last double session for 10 days, as next week's schedule of two games in six days will throw things for a bit of a loop.
Friday morning's session is set for 8:45-11:15 a.m. (pads) with the afternoon workout a special teams-only affair, scheduled to run from 2:15-3:00 p.m. at Clarke Hinkle Field (weather permitting).
Where: Clarke Hinkle Field
Weather: 68°, sunny
Did Not Participate: Na'il Diggs (rest), Ahman Green (foot), Tyreo Harrison (ankle), William Henderson (illness), Jason Horton (back/hip), David Martin (knee), Ja'Dae McGuire (abdominal strain), Chukie Nwokorie (hamstring), Mark Roman (hamstring), Darren Sharper (rest), Donnell Washington (arch), and Chris Watson (hamstring).
Physically Unable to Perform List: Mike Flanagan (knee tendinitis), Chris Johnson (stress fracture), Mike Wahle (knee contusion),
Non-Football Injury List: Brennan Curtin (boil)
Reserve/Did Not Report List: Mike McKenzie