Postcard from camp: Packers
Though the Packers have identified their training camp base as St. Norbert College in nearby DePere, Wis., for an NFL-high 52 consecutive years, in reality that's a bit of a misnomer. They only sleep in DePere and are actually one of 18 NFL teams that conduct camp practices at their home facility. This year, there is something new, however, about the Packers' camp: They're debuting the sparkling Ray Nitschke Field, which is one block east of Lambeau Field, on the other side of the Don Hutson Center (the team's indoor practice facility.)
On Sunday, the day I was in camp, it was a cloudless, spectacularly sunny morning and the new grass of the Packers' practice field looked perfect enough to make a reporter want to run wind sprints on it (Alas, I didn't try. The Packers have pretty good security). There's a red-brick wall behind the 1,500-person bleacher seating on one side of the field, making it almost feel like a little stadium in and of itself. It's a top-notch addition to the Packers' facilities, and just another reason for Wisconsinites to plan a summer trip to Green Bay's training camp.
"The 16 [starts] gives you some confidence, and not having the distraction we had last year makes the whole team a little more relaxed,'' Rodgers said. "But the biggest thing is the guys and how they're responding to me. After playing 16 games and, I think, showing some toughness, fighting through an injury, I think there's a respect level that grew there.''
Rodgers entered last season hoping and believing he could be the guy in Green Bay. Now that he knows he is, it shows. In the practice I saw, he was accurate, in command of the offense and very much the on-field leader of the Packers. I'd be surprised if he doesn't top the numbers he put up last year, including that victory total.
"I like where we're at right now,'' Rodgers said. "We're flying under the radar. Everybody's talking about Chicago and
I concur. I think Green Bay could be a bounce-back team this season. The talent is there, and the lack of expectation level might wind up being a boon to the Packers. With a hot start, that 6-10 mark could get flipped to a 10-6 pretty easily this year.
With Raji still not signed, I focused on watching the team's other first-round pick, outside linebacker
"It's definitely a linebackers' defense,'' Matthews said of the 3-4 formation. "You drop on some plays, you rush on others, you're coming underneath, you're man-to-man. They ask a lot of you. But when [new Packers outside linebackers coach]
Hang with me on this one, but here in the heart of Packer-land I did an absolute double take when I saw one of those flashing sign boards that advertises the upcoming events at a particular arena. In this case, it was the Resch Center, which is basically across the street from Lambeau Field. Every few seconds or so, the sign flashed the words: "
So how do you like that? The onetime Bears head coach coming to Green Bay to give some sort of motivational talk (he doesn't sing or dance, does he?) in the shadow of Lambeau, where he once was Public Enemy No. 1 as the face of the Packers' most historic rivals. I Googled what Ditka will talk about in Green Bay, at $36 and $51 a ticket, and found out that he'll share "lessons learned from a life of commitment and attention to the fundamentals -- and resulting victory.'' I take it from that he'll be leaving out his tenure as the Saints head coach.
I'm not trying to horn in on my colleague
Take that, Peter.
"Cullen Jenkins is a difference-maker,'' Packers coach