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Wilkins Beating The Odds


Way back in the preseason, Packers GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman knew days like these would come.

He didn't know the who, the how, or the when, but he knew that at some point during the 2002 season, injury's cold hand would grasp the Packers and test their mettle.

So he prepared his team not only physically, but mentally, for times like these when the injury report was adorned with names that would headline a fantasy football draft.

"You have to be able to handle adversity to be successful, so you have to plan for adversity," Sherman said Wednesday. "I talked about injuries I don't know how many times to our players in the preseason. 'Hey, we're going to be injured. We're going to be in a lull in our season. We're going to have a bunch of guys out and somebody's going to step up. Our 53rd player (on the roster), is just as important as our No. 1 player.'"

It was a speech Sherman made before the roster was even cut to 53, and one he kept repeating. And each time rookie linebacker Marcus Wilkins heard it, he knew where he stood.

"I was probably that 53rd guy," Wilkins said.

The numbers hadn't been in his favor to begin with. Wilkins came to Green Bay as just one of the many undrafted rookies signed as free agents by the Packers. And he knew that from that large pool, only a small number -- if any -- would hang on to make the team.

But if Wilkins wanted to earn his spot, he didn't have time to think about the odds. And he wasn't about to lose confidence.

"My mindset from the very beginning, whether anyone drafted me or not, was that I wanted to play in the National Football League," Wilkins said. "It would have been nice to be drafted, but when I wasn't it didn't change my goal. And I couldn't have made it this far if I didn't see myself being here, belonging here."

Where Wilkins is now, is not only on the 53-man roster, but on the field. After sitting out the first three games on the inactive list, Wilkins made his debut on special teams against the Carolina Panthers (Sept. 29).

One week later, with multiple players sidelined because of injury, he saw time with the defense against the Chicago Bears, not as a linebacker, but as a defensive end.

Then last week against the defending Super Bowl champions, Wilkins not only returned to the field as an end, but was the Packers' top stopper on special teams.

"He had five special teams tackles, that's the highest number we've had by anybody in one football game (this year)," Sherman said of Wilkins' performance against the Patriots. "He's pretty much earned his spot and his right to be on the field because of what he has done on special teams, particularly in that last ballgame."

And even though Sherman was quiet about his personnel adjustments this week, and even though at 6-foot-2 and 231 pounds Wilkins is undersized to be anywhere on the defensive line, Sherman admitted that Wilkins is likely to be utilized as an end in passing situations this weekend.

"Obviously he's undersized to be going against the big guys, but he does present some problems from a speed standpoint," Sherman said. "He gives you a chance to put speed on the field and rest your other players."

Wilkins admits that he'd be more comfortable at linebacker, but that doesn't mean he can't contribute as an end.

"It's not my first position, but I feel comfortable with my hand on the ground," Wilkins said. "I don't get down there and think that it's something that I can't do, or that I'm stretching myself . . .

"You just have to have serious determination. I'm definitely not as big as any of the other guys on the line, so I have to be quick and fast around the corner."

For all that he's done to help the team in an injury pinch, Wilkins has no illusions of making his move to the line a permanent arrangement. Nor would he be surprised if he were relegated to special teams as some of the Packers' injured veterans are able to return to the field.

But if you think that has him down, think again. Despite the position flopping, perhaps no Packers player understands his role, nor Coach Sherman's every-player-counts philosophy, more clearly than Wilkins.

"Different people have different jobs here and mine is definitely to be an impact on special teams," Wilkins said. "The truth is, without that I might not be here. . .

"Right now they have me on the field, but that's not guaranteed. You have to go out there with the attitude that you're going to make a difference. Whatever it is I'm going to do, my mind is made up that I'm going to try and find a way to make plays."

And with each passing week, Wilkins is becoming less of a number and more of name.

Holliday Could Return

Although hesitant of rushing him back into action and causing further injury, Packers GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman said Friday that he has not eliminated the possibility that defensive end Vonnie Holliday could see action against the Washington Redskins Sunday.

Holliday has missed the Packers' past three games after tearing a pectoral muscle while making a tackle against the Detroit Lions, September 22. Initially expected to be out of the lineup for 6-8 weeks, Holliday returned to the practice field Wednesday, although his participation this week has been limited.

To prevent any further injury, Holliday has been equipped with a protective brace, which restricts his movement. While admitting that he wasn't ready to play a full game, Holliday said he felt that he could be a situational player Sunday.

"To go out and try to play 30-40 snaps would be crazy," Holliday said. "I think when I first come back I'm going to be introduced into it in small increments, three plays here, two plays here, third downs."

Holliday said that he is tired of standing on the sideline, but that he would leave the decision up to team doctors.

"I believe in those guys," Holliday said. "If I can go and they say I'm okay, then I will (play)."

In other injury news, Sherman said that safety Darren Sharper might play this weekend. Sharper had some participation in team practice Friday, but will be a game-time decision. Sharper injured his hamstring making an interception against the Chicago Bears (October 7).

Backup halfback and fullback Najeh Davenport (hamstring) did not practice this week, but Sherman hasn't ruled him out for Sunday. Cornerback Mike McKenzie also has been sidelined due to a groin injury. Sherman indicated that McKenzie is unlikely to play Sunday.

No More Dancing

While over in San Francisco, 49ers wideout Terrell Owens was defending his latest post-touchdown antics, Packers wide receiver Donald Driver said he was going to tone down his scoring celebrations.

Driver said his decision was not related to the 49ers-Seahawks game Monday night, when Owens capped off a touchdown catch by uncapping a marker that he'd pulled from his sock and signing the football, before handing it into the stands. In fact, Driver was just going on the advice of one of his fans.

"He's his own guy, I can't say a thing about Owens," Driver said. "I just happened to decide to change my dance because I have a fan who said, 'act like you've been there before and don't dance.' I give (my fans) their wish. They don't want me to dance no more, it's not a big deal, I'm not going to dance."

Asked if he'd consider reversing that decision if his fans requested that he bring the dance steps back, Driver said, "I'd have to see how many letters I get that say don't (dance) and do. I'll (decide) from that."

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