Pack show big-play ability before Family Night is cut short

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Packers fans got a short but action-packed first glimpse of their team since Green Bay won the Super Bowl in February.

For the second time in three years, weather cut short Green Bay's annual Family Night and the crowd of 43,048 that packed Lambeau Field on Saturday night to watch the Packers practice saw only 20 minutes of play.

Even so, fans already anticipating a run to another title got to see undrafted rookie Brandian Ross intercept Aaron Rodgers and return it 24 yards for a touchdown on the first play. Rodgers redeemed himself on the last play of the night, tossing a five-yard fade to Jordy Nelson for a touchdown.

Then an approaching thunderstorm forced the players to leave the field and the fans were evacuated from the seating bowl.

"The storm came in pretty quickly," Packers president Mark Murphy said.

A team policy established after a lengthy storm wiped out an intrasquad scrimmage on Family Night in 2009 meant that the players weren't coming back later Saturday to finish the practice.

"It was fun while it lasted," said running back James Starks, who had two big runs before the practice was stopped.

The fans that huddled in the concourse were encouraged to wait out the storm with team officials hopeful the storm would pass around 9 p.m. CT and let planned post-practice activities be held inside the stadium.

The team markets the festive summer outing toward families, offering $10 tickets, player jersey giveaways and a fireworks show, which was held to the delight of those who stuck around.

"We need to look at the Farmers' Almanac or something. This is unbelievable," coach Mike McCarthy said. "You really feel bad for the fans. This is such a special evening for the families, the kids, the fireworks, the whole deal. Everybody looks forward to it."

As players started to take to the field for warm-ups, highlights of Green Bay's 31-25 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Super Bowl were shown on the video boards with thousands already in their seats an hour before the workout began.

Unlike previous Family Nights, which have been held on an almost annual basis since 1999, coach Mike McCarthy scrapped the scrimmage format and put the team through a non-tackle practice in pads.

McCarthy didn't want to put the players at risk of injury after they had been practicing only a week after 4½ months of team inactivity during the NFL lockout.

He went a step further by holding several players out of the practice, including cornerbacks Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams, linebacker Clay Matthews, receiver Greg Jennings and tight end Jermichael Finley.

Williams and Jennings had hip injuries in practice Thursday, and Matthews also was nicked up late in the week.

Defensive back Brandon Underwood sustained what looked to be a leg injury during the abbreviated practice and didn't return.

"I know it's something above his knee," McCarthy said. "I don't know if it's hamstring or quad yet. I don't have that information yet."

Even with the injury setbacks early in camp, the Packers appear to be better equipped than most teams to make up for the lost time of not having the benefit of offseason activities for player development.

Few starting spots are up for grabs in the preseason.

The offense, led by Super Bowl MVP Rodgers at quarterback, is loaded with playmakers augmented by the return of Finley and running back Ryan Grant from injured reserve last season. First-round draft pick Derek Sherrod is getting the first shot to take over at left guard for Daryn Colledge, who left in free agency.

Despite losing key pass rusher Cullen Jenkins as a free agent, McCarthy praised the defense for playing faster than the offense early in camp.

The defense continued its hot start when Ross intercepted Rodgers' pass to James Jones and returned it 24 yards for a score.

"Pre-snap, I saw Aaron check off to James Jones, and he just nodded his head," Ross said. "I'm a rookie, he's a veteran, I figured he'll try me the first play. I just sat on his route and jumped it."

Rodgers led the first-string offense against the No. 2 defense for two more series before the rest of the practice was postponed.

He connected with Randall Cobb, a second-round draft pick this year, on a 40-yard pass down the sideline.

Rodgers ended the final possession of the night with the pass to Nelson in the back of the end zone for a touchdown.

"There's really no opportunity to make up for the work that we had planned tonight," McCarthy said. "It's unfortunate."

But McCarthy is hoped an unexpected early night off from work will be to the players' benefit after what he assessed to be a mentally challenging opening week of camp.

"Tonight's break may be helpful from that standpoint," he said. "We have a lot of work to do."

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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