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Packers: Morning Fix

Jclombardi reviews the morning headlines.

Guest senior writer jclombardi @

Anyone ready to see Jennings return a punt Sunday in the season opener against the Philadelphia Eagles? While it’s unlikely to happen, coach McCarthy did say Monday that Jennings is a candidate for the job along with cornerback Williams. Receiver Nelson will get the start at kick returner with running back Jackson in the mix.

Packers defense--Matthews, who played in the Pro Bowl after recording 10 sacks as a rookie, missed all four exhibition games with a pulled left hamstring. The other starting outside linebacker Jones missed the final three exhibition games with a shoulder injury, while starting defensive end Jenkins missed the final two preseason games with a strained calf.  Monday, it marked the first time all 11 defensive starters worked together since the scrimmage. Matthews and Jones participated in all aspects of practice while Jenkins took part in the jog-through portion at the start of practice.

Before returning to practice Monday, it had been 29 days since Matthews stood at his left outside linebacker position for the Green Bay Packers. And five practices before that, Matthews was playing right outside linebacker. With less than a week before Packers open the regular season at the Philadelphia Eagles, Matthews wasn’t fretting at all about making his game debut at a position he has played for less than a week.

Sam Shields has played a lot in the nickel cornerback position. He said he expected to continue along that role this week. He said he was excited about the opportunity.  Punter Masthay won the job in a heated battle. The one good thing, he said, was that the coaches allowed him to get in the proper amount of punting work to prepare for this season. DE Harrell said the back has been good. He was happy he could make it through camp through the majority of practices. He said his goals for the next month are simple: “Any way I can help this team.”

Consider all the elements. Rodgers, after two great seasons, is on the verge of joining the league’s QB elite. The Packers have a deep and dangerous receiving unit. Their attack-minded 3-4 defense has a good mix of pass rushers and ballhawks. The Packers are looking to regain control of their division after two years of stalking the Vikings. It hasn’t hurt that the Packers have created a lot of buzz with a stellar preseason. Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman expects Rodgers and the team to pick up where they left off in ’09.  “I would expect his play to continue for the Packers,” said Aikman, now an analyst for Fox. “Green Bay is the team to beat in the NFC North.” If the Packers had just split with the Vikings last season, they would have won the division. If they had swept, they would have been in New Orleans’ position — the No. 1 seed and in the driver’s seat to get to the Super Bowl.

Hey, look, it’s the defense. Matthews didn’t play a single snap in the preseason game with an injured hamstring. Jones played in just one game because of back and shoulder problems. Jenkins missed the final two games with sore calves. On Monday, all three of those key defensive starters were back on the field. The only injured player who watched practice was reserve cornerback Underwood.

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