Linebacker Nick Barnett is expected to make his preseason debut Thursday night at Tennessee, and while he doesn't know how many snaps he will get, he admitted that he will have a hard time containing his excitement about being back on the field.
"I've never tempered my excitement in the past and I'm not going to temper it now," Barnett said. "I'm going to be excited, that's the bottom line. There is nothing wrong with that. Nervousness and excitement are two different things.
"Will I be nervous? Not at all. I think I'll be exited more than anything, just to be out there playing football. I'll have butterflies, but those are not nervous butterflies. Those are excitement butterflies."
The anticipation is justified for a player that hasn't played in a game since last November in Minnesota when he sustained a torn ACL in his right knee in the third quarter. Barnett missed all of OTAs and mini-camp as well, and has been champing at the bit to get back on the field with a Packers' defense that is off to a fast start through the first three preseason games.
"People don't like to say it, but you have an envious heart because you want to be out there having fun and you're kind of jealous like, 'Oh man, I just want to be out there playing with them'," Barnett said. "That's the hardest thing to deal with, feeling like the team is doing good without you.
"But I just kept my focus right and kept my faith that if I worked hard and I continued to do what I needed to do, I'm going to be back and I'm going to be back better than ever."
Barnett will play the "Mack" spot in Dom Capers' 3-4 scheme, the inside position on the weak side opposite A.J. Hawk that Brandon Chillar has manned in Barnett's absence to his point. Since Barnett knew his physical reps would be sparse for much of camp, staying up to speed with the playbook became critical.
"I'm very confident in this defense and I'm very confident in the checks and the calls and what I have to do on the communication side," Barnett said. "I haven't had a lot of reps in the defense, but I've had (a lot) of mental reps. I've been back there and I've been studying. I've probably studied the hardest that I have ever studied, so I definitely feel ready on the mental side."
Even though he is coming back from the first major injury during his first six years in the league, Barnett said he said he will not be preoccupied with how his knee holds up in his first game of live contact.
"I have no worries about the knee at this point," Barnett said. "The most I talk about it is with you guys when you ask me about it. I don't' really feel it and I kind of block that out if there is anything. There is going to be things here and there. You're going to hear a crack or a crackle or something weird, but that's part of an ACL recovery and rehab. I'm not worried about it.
"I'm going to go out there and play football, and whatever happens, happens. I'm going to play full speed. If it breaks again it breaks. I'm not going to be worried about it, and I think that's the way you have to play."
Rookie defensive lineman B.J. Raji took reps at nose tackle during Monday's practice after primarily seeing time at left defensive end to this point in the preseason.
"It's football, so my comfort level (at nose tackle) is always going to be pretty high," Raji said. "Obviously they are moving me around. Luckily conditioning isn't too different between end and nose, maybe a contain here and there, but not too much difference as far as how you are attacking a guy."
Raji played 40 snaps on Friday night at Arizona, and registered four tackles. He said with the team likely going with five active defensive linemen on the gameday roster, he expects to be called on to work at both end and nose tackle.
"I thought he started a little slow (Saturday), and I thought he got better as the game went on," Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. "He needs to play. He's getting all the work that he needs and what he missed. He's a talented young man, but he's still raw. He has some rust we need to knock off the edges.
McCarthy said starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers would play "the first series or so" on Thursday at Tennessee in the preseason finale, which is expected to be about the amount of time that all of Green Bay's healthy starters will play.
This is the eighth straight year that Green Bay has played Tennessee in the final game of the preseason, and the Titans have historically played their starters into the third quarter in the finale. Whether Tennessee will utilize the same approach this year isn't known since Thursday will be their fifth preseason game since they opened with the Hall of Fame Game, and they begin the regular season a week later with a Thursday night game at defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh to kick off the 2009 season.
"It's good for us, because you find out about it (what backups are capable of)," McCarthy said. "If you look at last year's game, particularly I thought our younger players on defense played well in that game, better than we did on the offensive side. It's a great experience anytime you get to play against top-notch competition."
New to the injury list was rookie guard/tackle T.J. Lang, who sat out Monday's practice with a foot injury. McCarthy said the team's medical staff was going to run further tests on the injury.
Quarterback Matt Flynn did only light throwing again in the jog-through, but he returned to his regular holding duties on field goals.
Defensive end Michael Montgomery practiced with a large club cast on his broken left hand.
Remaining out were linebacker Desmond Bishop (toe), safeties Charlie Peprah (knee) and Aaron Rouse (hamstring), cornerback Will Blackmon (quad), running back Brandon Jackson (ankle), wide receiver Greg Jennings (head) and defensive end Justin Harrell (back).