Training Camp Report: Historic Practice At City Stadium Has Its Moments

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The atmosphere was inviting, but it fizzled a bit at the end.

Tuesday night's historic practice at City Stadium was attended by nearly 3,500 fans, and they were treated to several highlights on both sides of the ball. But the 2 1/2-hour workout was marred somewhat by the offense's sloppy finish during the two-minute drill, when three drives produced no points and a slew of mistakes, including pre-snap penalties, that frustrated Head Coach Mike McCarthy.

"The two-minute mechanics is always a little rugged first time out, if you look in the spring, you look back to last year," McCarthy said. "I've experienced that. But there's no excuse for false starts, whether it's guys not concentrating because they're tired and so forth."

On the No. 1 offense's two-minute possession (trailing 21-17 with 1:31 left on its own 40), a 17-yard fourth-down pass from Aaron Rodgers to Donald Driver kept the drive alive, but it was immediately set back by a Cullen Jenkins sack. The coaches allowed a 30-yard catch-and-run by Noah Herron to stand after the sack, but the offense still couldn't capitalize. A third-and-goal play from the 6 with 3 seconds left was the final snap, and Rodgers' pass to Zac Alcorn in the back of the end zone was broken up by Marquand Manuel.

The No. 2 and 3 offenses struggled mightily, producing a combined one first down, a holding penalty, a false start, a fumbled snap and two dropped passes.

"We're having these lulls that we need to get rid of," McCarthy said. "I know everyone goes through them in training camp, but I'm not happy with the way the practice ended."

Prior to the sloppy ending, both the offense and defense drew some cheers from the crowd for some spirited play.

In one team period, Rodgers scrambled left and hit Bubba Franks over the middle for a big gain. He also fired a crisp play-action pass to Greg Jennings on a comeback route and later beat a blitz with a perfectly thrown deep ball to Calvin Russell. Then on the next snap, he threw a deep lob to Ruvell Martin down the sideline.

"It felt like a high school atmosphere," Rodgers said. "It was electric in the air. It was probably our best practice of the preseason until the two-minute (drill)."

The defense had a few highlights, too. Johnny Jolly had a hefty collision with running back DeShawn Wynn, linebacker A.J. Hawk came free on a blitz of Rodgers that fired up the crowd, and Nick Barnett knocked P.J. Pope down just as he caught a swing pass coming out of the backfield. Also, the defense blocked a 40-yard field goal attempt by Dave Rayner. It appeared either Jarrett Bush or Will Blackmon got a hand on the ball rushing off the edge.

"I thought the environment here was excellent to work in, and I thought we had a good night's work," McCarthy said.

The veteran players appreciated the opportunity to take the field at the Packers' former home.

"The last time they played games here was in the '50s," receiver Donald Driver said. "Now we played on the same field as a lot of the Packers' legends played on. There's a great tradition here and it's an honor to be able to play on this field."

WRs get their leader back

Driver passed his shoulder strength test and returned to practice on Tuesday morning. He immediately made an impact, making a leaping grab for a touchdown during a team period that started a string of quality catches by his receiving mates.

James Jones leaped to haul in a TD pass from Rodgers and hung onto the ball as he hit the ground, and moments later, tight end Donald Lee jumped to snag a TD catch from Ingle Martin. In one of the late team periods, Ruvell Martin went high over Will Blackmon to catch a lob to the back of the end zone from Ingle Martin.

Driver said Jennings and Robert Ferguson, who had an impressive TD catch requiring nifty footwork during Monday's workout, have called him the sparkplug of the receiving corps, and it seemed to be true on Tuesday.

"We haven't caught the ball well since practice started," Driver said of the receiving corps. "For me to come out there today and make a big catch, after that everybody just started catching balls. So I guess I am that sparkplug. I never look at it like that, but those guys look at it like that, and if I'm going out there every day in practice, it makes those guys go out there and practice even harder."

Driver isn't expected to be limited at all in practice because of the shoulder. He said he has no plans to take any more days off.

{sportsad300}Plenty of contenders

The competition for the No. 3 cornerback, or nickelback, job is expected to remain intense throughout camp. Patrick Dendy is the incumbent holding the spot now and has taken the first snaps in the nickel defense in practice so far.

"Patrick has a ton of experience," McCarthy said. "He played very good football for us. He was a marked man when he went in as a young guy. I thought he held up very well. His experience will pay off this season."

It may pay off in holding off the challengers to his job, too. But Frank Walker, Blackmon and Bush are all still very much in the running as well.

Walker said Tuesday he's still learning the defense and isn't entirely up to speed, but once he gets there he hopes to start making more plays in practice. On Monday afternoon, he made a nice break-up in the end zone on a jump ball against Ruvell Martin on a corner route.

"Everybody wants it, only one person can have it," Walker said of the heated competition. "If it ain't worth working for, it ain't worth having."

The nickel job is vital, not only because the defense will use three defensive backs on roughly 50 percent of the snaps, but also because the No. 3 corner is the next in line to start should either Al Harris or Charles Woodson get hurt.

"Those guys are making great improvements out there on the field," Woodson said of the backup corners. "I think we'll be good enough for three-receiver sets, four-receiver sets, whatever a team throws at us."

Making some noise

Crowd noise was piped in through speakers lined up along Clarke Hinkle Field on Tuesday morning. The Packers often practice with crowd noise, but not normally this early in training camp.

McCarthy said with the first preseason game in Pittsburgh in less than two weeks, and with three regular-season stretches of back-to-back road games, there's no sense waiting to introduce the noise element.

"We're just making sure that our silent count is getting more reps than they did last year and adjusting as early as possible," McCarthy said.

Injury, participation update

Defensive tackles Johnny Jolly and Ryan Pickett passed their run test on Monday and were back on the practice field Tuesday morning. They worked as the interior tandem with the No. 2 defense, with Corey Williams and Colin Cole remaining with the No. 1 unit.

Linebacker Juwan Simpson (shoulder) was back at practice Tuesday, but fullback Brandon Miree (Achilles) and linebacker Rory Johnson (abdomen) were added to the injury report. Both are day-to-day.

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