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Packers find their edge in Sunday practice

Posted Aug 19, 2012

Call it an edge or call it a sense of urgency. Each was evident in the Packers’ practice on Sunday, from the edge in special teams coach Shawn Slocum’s voice as it bellowed from the loudspeaker, to the clap of thunder that sent practice indoors, to the late hit and brief scuffle that followed.

“I think they’re focused on a normal week. They’re starting to get their legs back. The tempo was excellent. We finished up early,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said following a practice that was longer than had been par for the past two weeks.

Why longer?

The reason might be the return of receivers Greg Jennings and Jermichael Finley, fullback John Kuhn, the full participation of newly signed running back Cedric Benson, and generally speaking a healthier football team than the Packers have been in a while.

“I thought he was fast in the hole. I was impressed with him,” McCarthy said of Benson, who gave the running back position a healthy glow on Sunday.

 Why was there a sense of urgency on Sunday?

Clearly, that’s the result of a 35-10 loss to the Browns last Thursday, a preseason game in which the Packers allowed 32 unanswered points.

“You want to see players step up and take advantage of their opportunities. That was not the case for a large part of our football team this past week. Hopefully, that’ll change this Thursday,” McCarthy said.

Some of it began to change on Sunday. Jarrett Bush was re-installed at right cornerback with the No. 1 defense, and he produced a couple of impressive pass-defenses. Rookie Casey Hayward, who was the starter at right corner against the Browns, turned away a pass in a trick-plays segment.

Even the scout team had its moment, as Graham Harrell completed a pass over the middle to D.J. Williams against the No. 1 defense. Williams split the defenders and was free to the end zone. The thunderclap that sent the Packers inside the Don Hutson Center immediately followed that play. Was it a coincidence?

A team that was 15-1 last season is 0-2 in this preseason, and though nothing about the preseason engenders itself to desperation, the Packers are in distinct need of a better performance in Cincinnati this Thursday than they’ve exhibited through the first two games of this preseason. That fact was easily detected in the coaches’ voices on Sunday.

“That’s not good enough,” Slocum shouted during a special teams drill.

Veteran center Jeff Saturday flinched on the snap count on a play from scrimmage late in practice, causing a penalty flag.

“Get out of there, Jeff,” offensive line coach James Campen said, as Saturday was replaced for the down by Evan Dietrich-Smith.

Linebacker Robert Francois expressed his sense of urgency by delivering a rude knockdown to tight end Brandon Bostick. It was a post-play collision, the tone of which might’ve sharpened the offense’s edge. A few plays later, guards T.J. Lang and Josh Sitton appeared to be the aggressors in a scuffle between offensive and defensive linemen.

McCarthy regretted having to send his team indoors.

“I wish it had stayed that way the whole time,” he said of the rain, before the arrival of lightning. “You have games like that. You’re eventually going to play in it.”

McCarthy said the Packers’ starters will play through the first half in Cincinnati. “In the second half … we still have a number of individuals we want to see.”

Jennings and Finley each caught passes of significance in Sunday’s practice. McCarthy said running back James Starks will probably be out of action another couple of weeks with his turf toe injury. Running back Brandon Saine (hamstring) might be able to return to practice next week.

Rookie safety Jerron McMillian, who intercepted a pass off a deflection on Sunday, was praised for his work in the Browns game.

“I thought Thursday was probably his best day as a Packer. He took a big step from San Diego to the Cleveland game. I’d like to see him do it again,” McCarthy said.

Based on Sunday’s practice, it would seem everybody wants to take the same step.

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