This was supposed to be the training camp when the Green Bay Packers’ young receiving guns made their move to unseat veteran Donald Driver.
Tori Gurley and Diondre Borel were highly touted wideouts who turned down offers from other teams last season in the hopes of making the Packers’ 53-man roster in 2012.
The 37-year-old Driver was supposed to be nearing the end of his NFL career that began in 1999.
But it’s not Borel, 23, or Gurley, 24, that the coaches are raving about after a month of training camp. Instead, it’s the old reliable, ageless wonder Driver that has gotten their attention.
“I don’t want to jinx anything but this guy has not missed a practice,” said Packers receivers coach Edgar Bennett of Driver. “You look at that, and everyone talks about how long he’s been doing it, the age, and (he) hasn’t missed a beat. He’s in tremendous shape, comes to work every day, tremendous work ethic, great attitude, just continues to contribute.”
This is an act that never gets old. Driver is a player that never grows weary. He’s been doing this for 14 training camps, and his solid performance this past month has silenced the doubters and all but guarantees he will be contributing to the Packers’ cause this season.
“You’re always on the bubble,” said Driver this week. “I don’t care if you play in this league two years or if you play in this league 15 years … you’re still on the bubble because any given day it can be over for you.
“I don’t think any guy can get in here and say, ‘Oh, I’m comfortable.’”
Maybe that’s Driver’s secret. He never takes anything for granted. He works year-round and keeps his body in mint condition. While some of the youngsters have missed time with injuries this month, the oldest player on the roster — Driver — has answered the bell every day.
After spending last season on the Packers’ practice squad — the NFL’s version of Triple A ball — Gurley and Borel are attempting to make it to the big leagues. But the Packers boast the best wide receiver group in the league, top to bottom, and Driver isn’t making it any easier for the young kids.
The Packers might only keep five receivers, which could leave Gurley and Borel out in the cold once again when final cuts are announced Friday night.
Gurley turned down an offer to join Minnesota’s 53-man roster last December, and Borel passed on a similar opportunity with Tampa Bay around the same time. No matter what happens this week, it’s expected both will land on an NFL roster somewhere this season. But their goal was to play for the Packers.
While Bennett has seen improvement in both young players, he adds: “(They) obviously hit a few rough spots this camp with the injuries.”
Both are capable of making plays, but they have also missed some opportunities to consistently shine.
“For the most part those guys have grown and improved,” said Bennett. “(But it’s) still one of those situations where you have to earn it … prove it every single day.”
Packers coach Mike McCarthy admitted he was hoping Gurley and Borel would have made a bigger jump in production from last year.
Neither has stepped up and seized a roster spot. It appears a standout performance Thursday night against Kansas City at Lambeau Field will be needed.
Driver remembers how unsure he was about his NFL future during his first training camp in the summer of 1999. He was the Packers’ 12th and final draft choice that year, taken in the seventh round with the 213th overall pick. All he did was show up every day and make plays, compelling the Packers to keep him.
“It was rough for me my rookie year,” said Driver, who said he entered that camp as one of 13 wideouts on the roster. No one would have guessed back then that Driver would become the Packers’ all-time leading receiver.
He will never forget the support he received from veteran teammates, something he tries to pass along to younger players now.
“It was great when No. 4 (Brett Favre) just told me to relax,” Driver recalled. “He took me under his wings with Antonio (Freeman) and Robert Brooks and Corey Bradford and told me, ‘Hey, just relax. You’ll be fine.’ I just did everything they said and the outcome was I made the team.”
Driver recalls one particular coming-out moment during a training camp practice.
“The one that really set the tone is when I caught one on (cornerback) Craig Newsome and (safety Darren) Sharper fires off, he hits me so hard, knocks the wind out of me,” said Driver. “But I spin around and I score the touchdown. I get to the end zone and I fell down. That’s when they looked at me and said, ‘OK, this kid can play.’”
Thirteen years later he’s still playing and showing no signs of letting up.
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