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GREEN BAY, Wis. — There is time for the wounded to heal before their Sept. 12 regular-season opener vs. the Eagles, but the dog days of training camp have taken their toll on the Packers.
Head coach Mike McCarthy cut a few periods out of practice on a hot and humid Monday afternoon, but he said the heat had nothing to do with his decision.
"Today's practice was shortened because of our numbers," he said. "... I don't mind the heat. I think our players do a good job of hydrating, but I think we were working with 66 players max today, so it was more a reflection of being short in a couple areas, particularly linebacker."
There were notable contributors from other positions, including WR Donald Driver, who were sidelined, but linebacker was hit hardest, as just six of the team's 11 'backers were full participants. Starting OLB Clay Matthews injured his left hamstring — the same one he injured in training camp last year — in a scrimmage Aug. 7, and McCarthy estimated he would be out for at least two weeks. Another starter, ILB Nick Barnett, was kept out for precautionary reasons.
"It seems like every training camp you go through a position that gets stressed," McCarthy said. "Some years are different than others. This year it's the linebacker position."
Driver, who underwent scopes on both knees in January, has an issue with his calf that's being monitored, McCarthy said.
"We don't know if it's part of the post-surgery process of coming back," McCarthy said. "We're just being smart with him."
• It turns out that Green Bay's first-round pick this year, Bryan Bulaga — who had been working exclusively at left tackle before Monday — could become the starting left guard.
Bulaga, the 23rd overall pick, took reps at the position Monday, and McCarthy announced after practice that Bulaga is competing for the starting job.
"We felt at this point that he's earned an opportunity to compete for a starting position," McCarthy said. "Our intent throughout the spring and going into training camp was to work him exclusively at left tackle. (We've) been very impressed with his body of work to this point, and we're going to give him an opportunity to compete with Daryn Colledge and Allen Barbre at the left guard position."
Bulaga hasn't played left guard since he was a freshman at Iowa in 2007. He transitioned to left tackle the next season.
"I'm going to try to take advantage of (this chance) as much as I can" Bulaga said. "It's just an opportunity."
• Third-year WR Jordy Nelson had the highlight-reel play of the day. Making up for a ball he had dropped while wide open, Nelson made a spectacular grab in tight coverage that drew one of the loudest reactions from the relatively subdued fans sitting in the bleachers at the team's outdoor practice field, which is just down the street from Lambeau Field. It was a leaping catch about 40 yards downfield, just off the sideline, with two defenders covering him.
Earlier he dropped an Aaron Rodgers pass with no defenders anywhere near him, and he then kicked the ball away after it landed on the ground.
"That was terrible," Nelson said of the drop. "You get too relaxed sometimes; that's the problem. There was no one around. Those are frustrating right there. That's the easiest ball to catch. You relax too much, think about something else and you drop it. That's how easy it is. If you don't focus on the ball, it's harder to catch than you think."
• As is the case for many teams this time of year, the Packers' defense appeared to be ahead of the offense, and that was clear to see during the two-minute drill, which ended with Rodgers being intercepted by S Nick Collins on a 3rd-and-17 pass.
Rodgers was actually knocked down by a defender on the first play of the drill. One coach politely asked players to stay off the quarterback afterward. LB Brad Jones was credited with sacking Rodgers three plays later, after he blew past blockers on a blitz. Rodgers was not hit on that occasion, though.
• McCarthy named TE Jermichael Finley a starter in late February after a strong finish last season. Finley made 38 of his 55 catches in the final seven games, which has led some to peg him as a potential breakout star for 2010. His rapport with Rodgers was on display Monday as the two connected several times during the practice session.
"(Finley) been very consistent in terms of production, but he needs to continue to work on the little things," McCarthy said. "His work ethic has definitely improved in his time here, and we're excited about what's in front of Jermichael."
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