While much of the attention is placed on starting receivers Donald Driver and Greg Jennings, as well as emerging tight end Jermichael Finley, the duo knows that opportunities will be there for them too, and they want to capitalize on those chances when they do come.
“We’ve got a lot of weapons on the offensive side of the ball,” Jones said. “All you can do is make the most of your chances. When the ball comes your way, make a play.
“We don’t ask for the ball. The ball is just coming our way a little bit more in practice. Like I said before, practice is one thing but game time is another thing. We’re trying to perform in the game. That’s how you stay in this league. You don’t stay in this league performing in practice, so hopefully we’ll get some more opportunities during the games.”
Both receivers have made several catches on intermediate routes early on in camp, and also in the deep game. Jones got behind safety Nick Collins on Sunday night for a long pass from Aaron Rodgers in 7-on-7 work, and Nelson made a nice sideline grab on a deep throw from Rodgers during Monday afternoon’s practice in 7-on-7.
“I tell you what, Jordy Nelson and James Jones, I’m very pleased with those two guys,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. “I thought they had outstanding springs, and they really picked up right where they left off. I think Jordy and James have really stepped up their game.”
After being hobbled by a knee injury in 2008 that limited him to 10 games, Jones bounced back to appear in all 16 contests last season, posting 32 catches for 440 yards (13.8) and a career-best five touchdowns. Jones caught three passes for 50 yards, including a 30-yard touchdown, in Green Bay’s Wild Card game at Arizona.
Nelson saw his ’09 numbers drop slightly from his rookie campaign, 22 catches for 320 yards last season compared to 33 grabs for 366 yards in ’08, but came on strong late in the season. He matched his career high with four receptions at Pittsburgh in Week 15 for a career-best 71 yards, posted a season-long 51-yard grab at Arizona in Week 17, and hauled in an 11-yard touchdown in the Wild Card contest against the Cardinals the following week.
“I feel real comfortable,” Nelson said. “Every day, every year it gets better. It’s just confidence, being comfortable with the playbook, A-Rod, the other receivers and coaches, just totally understanding what they want. It’s one thing to know what route you have, and then it’s another thing to know how to run it versus certain things.
“The less thinking you do, the faster you can play and the better off you will be. Like a lot of these young guys, we’ve all been through it. You start thinking a lot; you are thinking more than you are running. You think you are running fast but you are thinking so much about your route that you are not running that fast and not doing what you did in college because you were so comfortable. It takes some time and you’ve just got to keep working at it.”
At this time last year, veteran linebacker Nick Barnett was forced to watch camp practices from the sideline as he continued to rehab a significant right knee injury he sustained in 2008, so working on a one-a-day schedule early on in camp will suit him just fine.
Barnett had a scope done on his knee to clean out scar tissue from an ACL reconstruction, and worked only in the night practice on Sunday, the first day of two-a-days.
“The speed is there, the power is there, I’m moving around and playing good,” said Barnett, who started all 16 games at the ‘Mack’ linebacker spot in ’09 and led the team with 122 tackles. “It just gets sore, which I don’t like because I hate doing maintenance. Back in the day, I used to just practice and dip out. But it is a whole different ballgame now after you tear that ACL. I’m trying to get it back right.
“There is definitely going to be some maintenance on it for the rest of my career, and that’s the way the game goes. It’s part of the job, so I’m not worried about it. As long as I can get out there and run the same and feel the same, I’ll be happy.”
Even though Barnett sat out OTAs and mini-camp this offseason following the surgery, he is in a much different position compared to last year when he was trying to learn Dom Capers’ 3-4 scheme and didn’t play until the preseason finale.
“The toughest part is kind of getting your football shape back," he said. "You can do all of the cardiovascular stuff you want in the offseason, but doing those mini-camps and OTAs is very useful for that because you flip your hips and you get that type of football strength that you need. I think it is just good to be out there again and get that earlier than I did last year.”
Putting in the work
Mason Crosby has connected on only 6-of-11 field goals thus far in camp, but the fourth-year kicker isn’t overly concerned at this point.
“These first couple of days, I think we are just working on some stuff,” Crosby said. “We’re working out some kinks that we haven’t worked together a ton. So it’s one of those where we are still trying to find that rhythm with one another, and it’s one of those where we will keep working at it.
“It’s a long camp, and we’re just going to keep pressing to make kicks. That’s my philosophy this whole year, this whole training camp is just make them however I can.”
Crosby is working with two new holders in camp, punters Chris Bryan and Tim Masthay, after having two different holders last season in punter Jeremy Kapinos and quarterback Matt Flynn. Bryan, a former Australian rules football player, has never held before, while Masthay has some experience holding at the University of Kentucky. The long snapper remains Brett Goode, who has snapped each of the last two seasons for Green Bay.
McCarthy has said his preference is to have whoever wins the punting competition serve as the holder since they can spend more time working with Crosby in practice, as opposed to Flynn, who has other responsibilities during practice with the offense.
“We’ve got to get reps with the whole unit, the three of us, just switching those two guys and just feel as comfortable as I can with them and trust each one of them,” Crosby said. “Once we get into the games, and I think Family Night will be a good night to get out into the stadium, maybe if they have any jitters we can work some stuff out and make sure that we are ready to go once the season starts.”
The only players who sat out Monday’s practice were linebacker Brad Jones (back) and the three players on the physically unable to perform list, safety Atari Bigby (ankle), cornerback Al Harris (knee) and running back James Starks (hamstring).
McCarthy said Jones was improving, but that he was still too “locked up” from the bruised back he sustained in the opening practice on Saturday, so he was held out again.
McCarthy said Bigby is scheduled to be out of town on Tuesday for more testing on his injured ankle.
McCarthy said there was no timetable on Starks’ return, but that injury was a little worse than the team originally thought.
Rookie guard/tackle Marshall Newhouse dropped out of practice with heat-related issues.