I recently had the unique opportunity to observe the Green Bay Packers practice much closer than most fans. Watching from the same area reserved for media access, it was an interesting prospective to watch practice from ground level up close to the players. Here are some observations from an evening practice last week.
The strongest impression was made by Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers seemed very much at ease firing passes all over the field. The main highlight being a pass with plenty of zip down the left sideline to a streaking Jermichael Finley who had a step on the speedy Sam Shields. Rodgers' ability to move defenders with his eyes was clearly on display.
There was an obvious drop-off in QB play when backups Matt Flynn & Graham Harrell got their reps. I understand better why it's been said that Flynn is more of a gamer and not a very good practice player.
Jermichael Finley is big, fast, and confident. It seems clear that Finley will be Rodgers' favorite target until teams prove they can stop him. Through two preseason games Finley has had numerous passes thrown his way consistent with what I saw in practice.
Sure Sam Shields is an undrafted rookie free agent, but he's also been timed at 4.2 in the 40-yard dash causing me to do a double-take when seeing Finley a step ahead of the young defender racing down the sidelines.
Even the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Charles Woodson, resorted to grabbing and holding Finley on a fade route in the endzone drawing a flag from officials. To see Finley up close on the sidelines next to other players, you get a much better sense of how big he really is, not to mention difficult to cover.
Fans can rest assured that veteran DBs Charles Woodson and Nick Collins appear ready for 2010. Collins had an athletic leaping interception going back against his momentum (much to the delight of a cheering Woodson) while Woodson jumped a slant route for what would've been a TD.
Donald Driver shines as a playful veteran working hard while making people smile and talking with younger players. He is the leader you would imagine him to be. Also, he was the first to jump in front of the jugs machine after practice to get some more reps.
Both competing punters, Masthay and Bryan, provided some quality punts that should leave Packer fans confident that production from the punter position should be improved over 2008 and 2009 regardless of who wins the job.
Perhaps as a result of preparing to play in one of the loudest stadiums in the league at Seattle, the Packers had noise blaring up to the snap during much of the offensive work.
It was pretty impressive how loud it gets on the field compared to the drastic silence when the speakers are cut at the snap of the ball.
Overall, it seemed like a group of players having plenty of fun while getting their work done. Maybe because it was the last day of two-a-days without any pads on or maybe due to the fact it was finally a cool, breezy evening in August; either way, players seemed pretty lighthearted.
It will be interesting to see how this "friendly competition" translates into what is expected to be a big year for this squad. Overall, I came away impressed with the chemistry and delighted to have an up-close look at Packer practice while witnessing some of the skills on display.