He’s said it before and he’s saying it again. Donald Driver is always out to prove the doubters wrong.
Driver launched his NFL career in that manner back in 1999, when as a seventh-round draft pick from Alcorn State regarded for his high-jumping prowess, he made his way onto the roster of a team only two years removed from back-to-back Super Bowl appearances.
He’s winding his career down the same way in 2012, having heard all offseason – before he even did his first cha-cha on “Dancing With The Stars” – that there wasn’t room for a 37-year-old in the Packers’ young stable of receivers.
“It motivates you,” Driver said with his trademark smile. “It motivates you to go out there and just have fun, and I’m having fun with the guys.”
On Tuesday, Driver had about as much fun as he could at Ray Nitschke Field. In the fifth practice of training camp, and just the third in full pads, he hauled in three TD passes from Aaron Rodgers during team (11-on-11) drills.
He beat camp star Davon House on a corner route for one score, snared a bullet from Rodgers just beyond Jarrett Bush’s reach on a slant for a second TD, and then capped the two-minute drill on another dart from Rodgers up the seam from 18 yards out.
He did all this after a Monday practice that would have prompted the average veteran player to take it easy for a few days. Driver began the week by beating two young corners in one-on-one drills for touchdowns, and then he kick-started another successful two-minute drive with a 20-yard grab over the middle.
But Driver, who is taking advantage of some extra throws coming his way due to Greg Jennings’ elbow injury, apparently was just getting warmed up.
“It was a Donald Driver day,” cornerback Tramon Williams said after Tuesday’s workout. “Everyone thinks he’s kind of at the end … he may be, but he can still play.
“If you don’t respect him, then you’ll pay for it.”
Driver has plenty of respect inside the Packers locker room, and he has more outside of it than he chooses to believe. In recent years, he has overplayed the “doubter” card a bit as he has eclipsed the franchise records for career catches and receiving yards, but there were certainly plenty of opinions expressed in the media last winter that the Giants playoff loss would be his last game in Green Bay.
That’s not his only source of motivation, though. He’s still pushing for another Super Bowl, in part because he lasted less than two quarters in the one he played in two seasons ago due to an ankle injury. Both Driver and cornerback Charles Woodson, the two elder statesmen on the roster, were relegated to the role of sideline cheerleader as the Packers finished off their Super Bowl XLV triumph.
“Me and Charles have always talked about it, that we only played the first half of the Super Bowl,” Driver said. “We still have to play the second half. We have to get back to make sure we finish the whole game.”
Another Super Bowl ring would add to Driver’s possible Canton resume, as well, particularly in an era that has seen receiving statistics explode. Still, heading into this year, he’s one of only 31 players in league history to top both 700 receptions and 10,000 yards in a career (735-10,060).
At this point, whatever role Driver plays in the Packers’ high-powered offense is fine with him. His 37 catches for 445 yards last season were his lowest totals since 2001, but his six TDs tied for his highest mark over the last five years, and he added another score in the playoffs.
“It’s impressive that he’s able to still go,” said fellow receiver Jordy Nelson of being inspired by his teammate. “I got asked earlier what I’ll be doing at 37, and I said, ‘Hopefully, sitting on a recliner.’
“This is his 14th year, and he doesn’t miss a practice. He’s out there every day, running every route.”
Driver joked on Tuesday that having to practice only once per day now in training camp helps at his age, and he’d be a “really young 37-year-old” had camps always been conducted like this.
Then, again, with only one practice a day back in 1999, his work ethic and determination wouldn’t have been on display as often. Maybe he wouldn’t have had the chance to rise from the bottom of the depth chart and turn heads with the eye-popping catches that landed him the roster spot that started it all.
Of course, Driver would have overcome that somehow. Whatever the circumstances, there are no more reasons to doubt him, except to put another big smile on his face.
“That’s what it’s all about,” he said. “I’ve told you before, I’m not done until I say I’m done.” Related links