Saturday, April 30, 2005

PACKERS: Strong first impression

Jason Wilde Wisconsin State Journal
GREEN BAY - Aaron Rodgers could have faked it. Having thrown the ball impressively, held for field goals serviceably and handled the media throng deftly, his first day of work had gone well enough that he could have deemed it a relative success.
Instead, the Green Bay Packers' first-round draft pick and quarterback of the future fessed up and admitted after his first minicamp practice Friday that he didn't have a clue.
"I kind of feel like I had the 'deer-in-the-headlights' look today," said Rodgers, the former California quarterback whom the Packers picked 24th overall in last Saturday's NFL draft. "Like, 'Man, what am I doing?'
"I realize I've got a long way to go. This was my first day. But being a perfectionist and being somebody that wants to be the best every down, every play at practice, it's frustrating."
Nonetheless, while Rodgers only knows a small fraction of the playbook, struggled to spit out the Packers' 12- to 14-word play-calls in the huddle and was erratic early on, his throws were almost all tight spirals and mostly on target.
He used his same Jeff Tedford-taught form of cocking the ball high next to his ear on drop-backs, but he showed good arm strength and an ultra-quick release, although he did hold onto the ball too long a number of times.
"I thought he had a good day for the first time out," Packers coach Mike Sherman said. "Obviously he's got a long way to go trying to gain the knowledge of our offense. We didn't do anything special to prepare him. But I thought he stepped in and did a good job."
One surprise area Rodgers stepped into was holding for kicker Ryan Longwell, something that his fellow Cal alum had expressed concern about one day earlier.
"That just made a nervous day even more nervous," Rodgers admitted.
Rodgers got about a minute of practice with Longwell and long-snapper Rob Davis on the side before being summoned for four kicks, three of which Longwell made out of good holds and one of which he missed because Rodgers didn't get it down properly.
"We didn't draft him to be a holder, per se," special teams coordinator John Bonamego said. "But he can do it."
Longwell, who had problems during the first two days of camp with Craig Nall as his holder, was pleasantly surprised by Rodgers, who had held during practices at Cal but never in a game. But Rodgers wasn't good enough to get Longwell, who wears the No. 8 jersey that Rodgers wore for the Golden Bears, to consider giving up his jersey for the rookie, who is wearing No. 12.
"I'm entertaining all offers," said Longwell, who wore No. 4 at Cal, a number that's obviously unavailable. "Maybe he thinks by being a good holder I'll lower the price, but that's not going to be the case."
Back at quarterback, Rodgers had limited snaps during the morning and afternoon full-team practices, but he took all the reps during the extra 11-on-11 session after most of the veterans were excused following the afternoon workout.
Rodgers' best throw of the day came when he arched a perfect ball - with just enough zip on it and just enough air underneath it - between two defenders to streaking undrafted rookie free agent wide receiver Vince Butler down the right sideline.
"I don't know if he was going to come in and wow me because I had pretty high expectations for him," quarterbacks coach Darrell Bevell said. "But the first impression was very good."
In fact, the only real drawback to Rodgers' first day was the absence of Brett Favre, the quarterback he's expected to one day replace. While he was disappointed that his first audience with his hero and mentor would be delayed until at least June, it wasn't enough to dampen his enthusiasm.
"I wish he was here," Rodgers said. "But Brett has been doing this for a long time, and there's really no reason for him to be here. He's one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, and I just can't wait to meet him and get to start working with him."
Rodgers is rooming with ex-Cal teammate Garrett Cross, a tight end the Packers signed as an undrafted rookie, at a local hotel during the minicamp and said he'll be back in Green Bay in mid-May for his continuing education in the offense.
Until then, he'll return to his hometown of Chico, Calif. - he withdrew from school to prepare for the draft - and look forward to the next step in his new career.
"(After) doing the politicking and campaigning and getting yourself out there (before the draft), it's just nice to get back on the field and get back to playing, which is what I do best," Rodgers said. "(I was) making a lot of mistakes. On one hand, that's frustrating, but on the other hand, that's exciting, knowing that even though I had an OK practice I know I can be a lot better."
Notes: Hawkins off to impressive start
It was one play in one minicamp practice, but for a guy who hadn't played real football in more than three years, Green Bay Packers rookie defensive back Mike Hawkins' interception Friday morning was pretty special.
Well, except for the fact that he couldn't recall stepping in front of Craig Nall's errant pass midway through the minicamp practice.
"I really can't explain it because I don't really remember it," said Hawkins, a fifth-round pick who played Arena football in 2004 but hadn't played traditional football since leaving Oklahoma five games into his freshman year of 2002. "But it was great, me getting that ball and running and everybody saying 'Congratulations' and 'Good job.' That's great to hear from guys who have been here.
"But I need a lot more to make this team."
While most of the focus was on first-round pick Aaron Rodgers, Hawkins, who left the afternoon practice with leg cramps, was one of 20 other rookies - 10 draft picks and 10 undrafted free agents - who joined Friday's practices.
Second-round pick Nick Collins and fourth-rounder Marviel Underwood saw extensive time at safety; second-rounder Terrence Murphy and sixth-rounder Craig Bragg got plenty of work at the undermanned receiver position; fifth-rounder Julius Coston (left guard) and seventh-rounder Will Whitticker (right guard) received most of their offensive line reps during the rookies-only session following the afternoon practice; sixth-rounder Mike Montgomery rotated on the defensive line; and fourth-rounder Brady Poppinga (strong-side) and seventh-rounder Kurt Campbell (weak-side) joined the linebacker corps.
Meanwhile, the club formally announced its 10 free-agent signings: Wide receivers Vince Butler (Northwestern Oklahoma State) and Chris Samp (Winona State); tight end Garrett Cross (California); tackle Chris White (Southern Mississippi); punter Bryce Benekos (Texas-El Paso); running back Chaz Williams (Georgia Southern); defensive tackle A.J. Lindsay (Temple); cornerback Leigh Torrance (Stanford); and linebackers Roy Manning (Michigan) and Zac Woodfin (Alabama-Birmingham).

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