Packers glad to be back on the field
GREEN BAY, Wis. — This waiting-room feeling is difficult to describe. You have no idea, Brad Jones says.
Sitting out an entire season on injured reserve while guys named Zombo and Walden played well at his position was not fun for Jones. The Green Bay Packers outside linebacker won't admit to any trace of envy. But the wait, that excruciating wait, was brutal.
"People don't quite know how tough it is to go on IR," Jones said. "It's tougher than you think. It's hard to go on IR and basically not be able to do anything."
So, the family reunion at Ray Nitschke Field continues. Last year's walking wounded are gradually working their way back to game speed. On offense, Ryan Grant and Jermichael Finley are the heralded returnees. Nearly as important are the healthy returns of Jones and safety Morgan Burnett.
Burnett's season ended with a torn ACL on Oct. 3. Jones' season ended with a shoulder injury on Oct. 24.
Now, they're both trying to win their old jobs back. During their absence, others stepped in almost seamlessly. Strong safety Charlie Peprah, a roster filler his previous four NFL seasons, finished with 64 tackles, seven pass breakups and two interceptions. Jones' vacant position opened the door for Frank Zombo (67 tackles, four sacks) and Erik Walden (three sacks in Week 17).
Green Bay's defense never blinked, finishing fifth in the NFL en route to the franchise's fourth Super Bowl.
Translation: Neither Jones nor Burnett was missed much. They're hoping to change that.
"It's great. It's awesome to be back," Jones said. "It feels really good, really, really good. It's been a long time, but it's fun to be back and practicing."
Jones had surgery on his shoulder in late October and says he's been rehabbing every day since. The 2009 seventh-round pick was an unsung piston in Dom Capers' first year installing a 3-4 defense. While Aaron Kampman struggled upright, Jones started seven games with four sacks.
A true pass-rushing threat tag-teaming with Clay Matthews could be the variable that takes the Packers' defense to a new level. Expect coaches to monitor this three-way battle at outside linebacker closely.
"It's a competition," Jones said. "We'll be rotating and whoever does the best job will get it."
Both Jones and Burnett trained regularly during the off-season — Jones in San Diego, Burnett in Atlanta. Occasionally, Burnett worked out at his alma mater, Georgia Tech.
"It was kind of my life," Jones said. "You get hurt and it sucks not being able to play football. All you want to do is work out and rehab and just get your body in the best possible condition. That's what I did for six months."
A year ago, Burnett became just the second rookie safety since 1988 to start in the season opener. Four games later, he was finished. Initially, he was crushed. Burnett remembers having a long talk with his mom. From there, text messages from teammates helped him escape his funk.
This wasn't the way he wanted to start his NFL career. Burnett had no choice but to deal with it.
"You want to be out there with your team and help out the best way that you can," Burnett said. "But you take a positive out of it by just standing back, watching and learning."
"There are times when you're anxious to get back out there. Just last year, I was wishing to get back out there. But at the same time, you're learning."
The daily routine is what both missed most, the series of meetings and practices that many veterans would consider mundane. Jones and Burnett yearned for it.
On the field, Burnett has been brought along slowly. Peprah, who received a two-year extension before the lockout, has been starting with Nick Collins. As for Jones, he's seen action at both left and right outside linebacker through camp. There are no lingering effects. Sometimes, Jones says, he forgets he even had shoulder surgery. His range of motion is back.
If Zombo or Walden earns the job at outside linebacker, it'd make sense to move the 6-foot-3, 240-pound Jones inside. Green Bay could use an on-demand replacement for A.J. Hawk on passing downs. Jones has never played on the inside here. He couldn't even target what the biggest challenge would be if he made the switch.
Either way, he just wants to play. Cornerback, quarterback, long-snapper, whatever, Jones repeated. The wait is over.
"I'm ready for football," Jones said. "It's been too long."