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Training Camp Report: Packers Looking Forward To First Game Action

After two weeks of knocking around no one but each other on the practice field, the Packers are more than ready to finally take on an actual opponent in the preseason opener on Saturday night.


But for a team surrounded with high expectations and Super Bowl aspirations, the game against the Browns at Lambeau Field won't just be about hitting someone in a different colored jersey. It will be about getting off on the right foot and starting strong on both sides of the ball, even if it's just a preseason contest.

"Just be out there and be dominant," outside linebacker Brad Jones said. "I think that's always the goal. In the first preseason game you want to set the tone. Be a dominating force.

"I think we want to showcase how good our defense is going to be."

The same goes for the offense. Head Coach Mike McCarthy said he expected to play the starting units roughly 20 snaps on Saturday night, though that could change over the final 48 hours prior to kickoff.

"However long we're going to be out there, we want to execute," running back Ryan Grant said. "Be as polished and clean as we can, from play one. Just make sure we're really on the same page, guys are clicking. We want to get this train rolling, so we want to be as oiled up as possible."

The Packers got off to a dominant start in the preseason last year, shutting out Cleveland in the opener and going on to win their next two as well, with the starters exiting with well-established leads.

That didn't translate into the hottest of starts to the regular season, as the Packers struggled in the opener against the Bears before pulling the game out in the final minute. Ultimately, the team started 2-2 overall and much of the momentum from the strong preseason dissipated at the bye week.

But that doesn't mean the goals for this preseason have changed. For all the hype surrounding the Packers in 2010, there is some sentiment to show they're worthy of the talk, no matter how early in the year it is right now.

"Frankly the bottom line is I want to see these guys compete," said McCarthy, who transitioned the team from the installation practices to game-planning practices on Thursday, with both the offense and defense running plays against scout teams running Cleveland schemes. "I want to see them perform at a high level. There's more things that go on in a preseason game. It's not as much about winning and losing. It's trying to get certain segments of your football team intact, whether it's something you're emphasizing on special teams or what you're trying to get done on offense and defense, the different combinations of players you're playing together, trying to get players the proper reps.

"Preseason games are always a different challenge, because you're trying to gain as much information about your football team as possible."

To try to keep the team as healthy as possible after a blazing-hot workout Thursday morning, McCarthy changed Thursday night's scheduled padded practice to a shells practice. He said he feels good about where the team is preparation-wise, and he was concerned about special-teams depth for the second half on Saturday night and didn't want to risk any more injuries.

He was pleased with the way the players responded to the reprieve, saying they practiced with the best tempo they've had the entire camp, finishing the evening workout – under much cooler conditions – more than 20 minutes ahead of schedule.

Back to both waysTwo-way player Spencer Havner worked on both sides of the ball during last year's spring workouts and training camp, taking snaps at linebacker in some practices and at tight end in others. As it turned out, he was only needed on offense in the regular season and played strictly tight end.

Due in part to a number of injuries at linebacker, however, Havner was back on the defensive side of the ball on Thursday for the first time in 2010. Resuming his old inside linebacker spot, Havner donned a green No. 41 jersey, and though he held up fine, even he admitted it wasn't necessarily like hopping back on the proverbial bike.

"It's challenging to pick up the defense, all their calls," he said. "They have a ton of defensive calls."

McCarthy said the plan all along was to have Havner, who's also a major contributor on special teams, get some work on defense in camp. But the banged-up linebacking corps – which was missing Nick Barnett (knee), Clay Matthews (hamstring), Alex Joseph (quad) and Cyril Obiozor (calf) and just got back Frank Zombo (ankle) and Brady Poppinga (concussion) this week – also simply could use another body.

Havner likely will play some linebacker in Saturday's game. In a tough battle for playing time in a deep tight-end group, Havner doesn't want to lose any ground on offense, and his quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, was piping up in the background as Havner was talking to reporters (Havner's and Rodgers' lockers are side-by-side) that his guy is still a tight end. But his versatility may help him hold down a roster spot when it's all said and done.

"I really like tight end, and I really want to practice at it and get my craft down," said Havner, who had five TD receptions last year, including playoffs. "But if playing some linebacker helps me out and helps the team out, then that's fine too.

"It doesn't hurt to be able to back up another position, so that's the way I'm looking at it. Like I said, I really like tight end and I want to play a lot of it."

Frustrated, but being patientComing off his ACL injury, return man Will Blackmon wanted to be able to practice full speed, with no restrictions, once training camp started.

But his knee simply hasn't been ready for that level of activity, even with the one-a-day schedule he was on the first week. So even though there's nothing out of the ordinary as far as his post-surgical soreness and swelling, he's been forced to sit out the past week and simply be patient, waiting for the knee to come around.

"I'm annoyed, but I understand, therefore I'm at peace," Blackmon said. "I get it. I just need to get more time and not go out there and go crazy. The good thing is I didn't have any setbacks. It's not like I reinjured anything. It did get sore and swollen, which is natural.

"I'm (at) nine months (since surgery), and nine to 11 months is the full recovery. It's not anything I'm stressing or worried about. I would love to get out there and get repetitions, because that's the best way to learn, but I get it."

Blackmon said he's already done all the change-of-direction and explosive movements that he used to, so from a structural standpoint he's not concerned about the knee. It's just a matter of being able to put it through all that football work on a daily basis. McCarthy acknowledged that Blackmon is "frustrated" and that he "wants to get out here and go," but Blackmon knows he needs to "be right" before he can do that.

In addition to being the team's top option at punt returner, and also a candidate to return kickoffs, Blackmon began converting to safety during offseason workouts, and all the missed time isn't helping that transition. He's taking all the mental reps he can while watching from the sidelines, but he realizes there's no substitute for actually playing.

"I learn better on the fly, but you can't emulate being on the field with anything," he said. "I can get quizzed all day on material, on the defense, but once you get out there, that's when the real test comes in."

He considers his situation "day-to-day" and sounded confident he'd be able to play in the final three preseason games.

"Once again, I know I'll be just fine once I get back out there," he said. "I know what kind of player I am. I'm a gamer. I just have to be accountable."

More on injuries/participationIn addition to Blackmon, Joseph, Matthews and Obiozor, it sounds like offensive lineman Jason Spitz (calf) also will not play in Saturday's game. He missed both of Thursday's workouts.

Fellow offensive lineman T.J. Lang was added to the injury report with a bruised quad, sustained in the morning session, and sat out on Thursday night. He may not be able to play either, McCarthy said.

Wide receiver Donald Driver (calf) and linebacker Nick Barnett (knee) returned to the practice field on Thursday night, though, and McCarthy said both could have a chance to play. They'll be evaluated again on Friday.

Along with Zombo, tight end Andrew Quarless (hamstring) returned to the practice field on Thursday for the first time this week.

Several veterans were given Thursday morning off, but the healthy players returned to the field in the evening. That group included offensive tackles Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher, center Scott Wells, linebacker Brandon Chillar, tight end Donald Lee, defensive ends Cullen Jenkins and Ryan Pickett, and cornerback Charles Woodson.

One-a-day players, including safety Derrick Martin (ankle) and receiver Brett Swain (knee), also sat out in the morning and returned for the evening session.

The three players on the physically unable to perform list – safety Atari Bigby (ankle), cornerback Al Harris (knee) and running back James Starks (hamstring) – remained out of action.

Aug. 12 - Additional coverage

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