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Training Camp Report: Special Teams Should Start To Solidify


Often during preseason games, special teams units are in flux with various players taking snaps on different units.

But with the offensive and defensive starters expected to play well into the third quarter on Monday night in Cincinnati, the special teams units also will begin to develop some continuity.

Head Coach Mike McCarthy said the third preseason game is where he expects the special teams to sort themselves out, while the fourth preseason game is used primarily to make final roster decisions.

"It's important that we come out of Monday night's game that we feel real good about some guys that jump out and take leadership of the special teams," McCarthy said. "I think we have a pretty good idea of the individuals that could be core players, but every successful team that I've been around has a bell cow - an individual or individuals that take hold of that."

Some of the core special teams members McCarthy mentioned are linebackers Brady Poppinga, A.J. Hawk and Ben Taylor, who plays the fullback in punt formation, as well as backup tight ends Donald Lee and Tory Humphrey.

A natural to emerge as a captain could be Poppinga because of his high-intensity, non-stop motor, and his participation on several special teams units. Poppinga's approach to the game as a whole translates well to special teams, where he finished one off the team lead with 22 tackles last year.

"It's an attitude," said Poppinga, who will get his first game action Monday night after a rapid eight-month recovery from a torn ACL. "My mindset is I have to find a way to make a play.

"Football in general, you can draw things up and they look great on paper, but it never really turns out that way. It's always going to be sort of controlled chaos or organized chaos. So it's a matter of just finding a way to get the guy who carries the ball down. If you get knocked down, you get up. If you get blocked, you get off the block. That's the mindset I take out there. I'm going to find a way."

As for being a leader on special teams, Poppinga won't shy away from the responsibility if that's how his presence and contributions are viewed.

"Anytime you're in a competitive environment and you feel you offer special kinds of talents and abilities, you want to be able to have those shine so that people can look to you as a source of energy and a source of inspiration," he said.

"If I can be a leader in any way possible, I'm going to try to take advantage of any opportunities that arise."

Sharp practice

McCarthy felt the team had a sharp workout at the end of a long week, particularly during red zone work.

Working against the scout teams, both the first-team offense and defense performed well in the red zone, with the No. 1 offense getting its first three drives into the end zone and the No. 1 defense forcing a turnover. Taylor deflected a pass at the goal-line that cornerback Jason Horton intercepted.

Another notable interception occurred later during team drills near midfield, when Hawk leaped to snatch a slant pass out of the air. He hit the ground running for what would have been a substantial return.

"He kind of threw the ball right to me, so I'd better catch that," Hawk said. "We were in a little zone coverage, and I took my drop and he threw the ball to me, so I was just trying to make a play. It happened pretty quick, but anytime you can get your hands on the ball, it feels good as a defensive guy."

Rodgers may direct No. 1s

McCarthy indicated that, depending on how the game plays out, backup quarterback Aaron Rodgers may get some time directing the No. 1 offense on Monday night against Cincinnati's No. 1 defense.

"He's worked with the 1s during camp so I don't think it will be a really big adjustment for him," McCarthy said. "Aaron's had a good camp, he really has, and the thing he needs in his development is live action, to play live. You like for him to play against the 1s. He got to play against San Diego's 1s, their defense, so anytime you get him in there against the 1s will be beneficial for him."

Injury update

Humphrey (elbow) and defensive lineman Kenny Peterson (ankle) returned to practice, but Peterson is still questionable for Monday.

Running back Arliss Beach (shoulder) was still wearing the red no-contact jersey but is expected to play.

Among others bothered by injuries this week who returned to practice, running back Najeh Davenport and cornerback Mike Hawkins are expected to play. Cornerback Patrick Dendy (ankle), guard Mookie Moore (shoulder) and running back Ben Brown (tailbone) are questionable.

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