Rookie Jackson likely to start Packers' opener against Eagles

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Note to the Green Bay Packers: Please cancel any sort of military aircraft flyover planned for Sunday's pregame ceremonies.

Given the likelihood of starting his first game as a rookie, running back Brandon Jackson is having a hard enough time relaxing right now.

"I'm just trying to stay calm now," Jackson said Wednesday. "I'm very excited now. It's my first game as a rookie, my first home game. If I get the start, it's a lot. I try to go out there calm and relaxed. It can get crazy, especially with those jets flying by."

Jackson, a second-round pick out of Nebraska, wasn't even the Cornhuskers' starter at this time last year. Now that the Packers' running back situation has gone from Ahman Green to just plain green, he'll likely be lining up behind Brett Favre for the Packers' season opener against the Philadelphia Eagles.

"I'm pretty sure I'm the guy right now," Jackson said. "I guess coach and them will make that decision I guess tomorrow or Friday. Hopefully I'll get the start."

Third-year running back Vernand Morency came into camp as the projected starter, then hurt his knee in the first practice. Morency has returned to practice this week, but only on a limited basis.

Green left town during the offseason, accepting a staggering free-agent offer from the Houston Texans. Third-down back Noah Herron is out for the season with a knee injury, as is reserve running back P.J. Pope.

Even Jackson hadn't been officially cleared to play as of Wednesday after missing last week's practice and the final preseason game because of a concussion. But Packers coach Mike McCarthy said he expected Jackson to play.

"He is explosive," McCarthy said. "I think he has natural running instincts. As far as how he's adapted to our offense, I think he continues to get better. I feel good about him on first and second down. He's getting better at third down and some of the specialty things that we're doing."

Blocking is a major question for any running back, especially for one as inexperienced as Jackson, who didn't become the featured back at Nebraska until the team's final nine games last season. He has shown running ability during practices and preseason games, but the Eagles' defense will test his blitz pickups.

"I just want to go out there and play up to the best of my ability and protect No. 4," Jackson said.

No. 4, of course, is Favre, who has started a quarterback-record 237 games -- 257 including playoffs -- and doesn't want to see it come to an end just because his running back made one wrong move.

"For our younger guys who haven't faced Philly, they're in for a big challenge," Favre said.

McCarthy said Jackson is steadily improving his blocking and blitz pickups, but acknowledged the Eagles' defense is no easy task for any player to face the first time out.

"This will be a challenge for our protection," McCarthy said. "We have spent a lot of time on it. It's something that we spend a lot of time on regardless of who we're playing. This will be an excellent challenge for us and our guys will be ready to play."

McCarthy said he has "no doubts" about the Packers' overall plans in the running game. But Favre seems to think the jury's still out.

"Time will tell," Favre said. "I think in my career this is the first time we've been faced with this. I'll say this, there's a lot of competition there, there's some injuries within those guys, but this is an opportunity where one or several of these guys can really step up."

Jackson will likely get the first crack at that opportunity.

For now, he's just trying to take it easy. He doesn't plan to watch any football at the team hotel on Saturday night because watching games gets him "hyped." Instead, he might channel-surf for "Fresh Prince" reruns.

"When I'm relaxed, that's when everything goes smooth," Jackson said. "That night, I know I probably won't be able to sleep, because I'll probably be getting a lot of phone calls too. So I'll just shut my phone off and just relax."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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