Despite a lockout that made fans sweat bullets, the calendar has turned to August and football is indeed back. Even though it seems Packer Nation didn’t really get to celebrate the Green Bay Packers’ Super Bowl XLV title due to the work stoppage, we must put last season behind us and focus on the new season that has just begun
For Cheeseheads, the start of football season means players on bicycles and practices at Ray Nitschke Field behind the Don Hutson Center. While it may feel different this year due to free agency occurring at the same time training camp opened, there are many other things that remain timeless at Packers training camp.
The aforementioned bicycles are one. Players ride kids’ bikes to and from practice each day. It’s a tradition like no other in the National Football League.
A couple thousand fans turn out in the stands for each practice with hundreds more lining the fence waiting to get a glimpse of how their team is shaping up for the upcoming season.
That said, enough about the experience. Today we take a look at the practice of Thursday August 4th as “Game Balls and Lame Calls” makes its return for the 2011 season. Yes, I know it is practice and game balls aren’t given out, but for the sake of consistency let’s just go with it.
WR corps—mainly Donald Driver, Randall Cobb and Shaky Smithson.
The reported demise of Donald Driver so far seems to be greatly exaggerated.
While many saw the drafting of Randall Cobb as writing on the wall for Driver’s time in the starting lineup, he showed no signs of slowing down during the practice I witnessed. Driver made a stellar tiptoe catch on the sideline on one play and then later caught the ball from Aaron Rodgers over the middle (Driver’s specialty) and was able to spin and juke his way out of a tackle.
As for Cobb, what else can I say? I don’t want to place unrealistic expectations on the kid, but he has incredible athletic skills. During kick return drills, he twice burnt the coverage unit and in passing situations his agility as on full display as he made leaping catches and plays down the middle. He definitely has promise. Someone even mentioned Desmond Howard when watching Cobb return kicks.
Again, I try not to place lofty expectations on the rookie.
Smithson to me was a pleasant surprise. With the first name of Shaky, you’d better perform well otherwise the headlines will write themselves.
Thankfully, Smithson didn’t disappoint. He first caught my attention in warm-ups before practice when he already had three balls in his arms and was able to catch a fourth without dropping any of the other three. He wasn’t so lucky with number five.
Smithson too performed well in kickoff drills. In the passing game, he had good vertical leaps and his hands were solid.
All this proved to me was that the Packers are ludicrously deep at wide receiver.
Defensive coordinator Dom Capers had his unit dialed in and blitzed the offense furiously. Had it not been for the red jerseys they were wearing, the quarterbacks would have taken a beating. Of course this also was not quite at full speed, but it seems that the defense is ready to rock and roll this season.
Kevin Greene in particular seemed fired up about the play of his group of linebackers. Erik Walden looks to be picking up right where he left off after his three sack performance against the Bears in the regular season finale.
Any thoughts or concerns about a lockout hangover were quickly dismissed. The fans seemed to be as starved for any kind of football as I was and turned out in droves. Ray Nitschke Field’s bleachers were basically at occupancy around 6:15, 45 minutes before practice was scheduled to begin and in a fair amount of humidity to boot.
The players seemed genuinely happy to see the fans as well. Packer training camp is a tradition like no other in the NFL and this group of Packers seemed to recognize that.
QBs Matt Flynn and Graham Harrell
Perhaps this is too much of nitpick, but when both backup quarterbacks fumble (and nearly fumble in Harrell’s case) a snap in practice back-to-back, you get a little concerned. Maybe it was the center, but regardless these kinds of mistakes tend to make fans worry.
Aside from the botched snaps, both struggled in red zone and two minute drills. Despite his performance against the Patriots, Flynn has yet to demonstrate he can be “the guy” consistently should a catastrophic injury happen to Rodgers.
Harrell meanwhile continues to be a work in progress, but he seemed to be watching Rodgers carefully and listening carefully to the Super Bowl MVP’s words.
While the return game seems to be on the upswing, the kickoff and punt coverage still seems to be lacking.
The unit was burned not only by Cobb but also by fellow rookie Alex Green out of Hawaii—A RUNNING BACK! Despite being the most maligned member of the Packers coaching staff, special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum definitely let his players know their coverage skills were poor. He was constantly reminding players to wrap up their opponents.
To his credit, Slocum realizes his unit must go back to fundamentals to be successful and he seems to be making that a focal point early in camp.
WR Shaky Smithson
Yes, he makes an appearance in both parts of this post. Even though he flashed his potential as a wideout, one of his supposed punt returns left much to be desired.
After a juggs machine sent a punt into the air, Smithson decided to let the ball go as if to let the other team down it. That is fine and dandy in games, but in practice? C’mon man. The crowd noticed this too and uttered “Shaky Shaky Shaky….” in a tone of disbelief.
So there you have it. It’s impossible to project the fate of the 2011 Packers after one practice but like the other 31 NFL teams after an entirely too long offseason, they remain a work in progress. As we all learned last year, preseason predictions never guarantee a smooth trip to the Super Bowl.
Still it’s good to see football is back. No more lawyers. No more judges. Just plain ol’ football.
Kris Burke is a sports writer covering the Green Bay Packers for AllGreenBayPackers.com and WTMJ in Milwaukee. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) and his work has been linked to by sites such as National Football Post and CBSSports.com. Follow @KrisLBurke