GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Donald Driver wasn't even on my list of players to watch this week at Green Bay Packers training camp. Driver has been so steady for so long -- by my count, he's missed two games in the past eight seasons -- that you almost forget he's on the practice field.
Friday, however, we were reminded just how rare a player Driver is. Six months after his 35th birthday, Driver signed a two-year contract extension that virtually ensures his career will continue into a 14th season. It's not often that a team commits new money to a player of Driver's age, but his conditioning and work ethic convinced he Packers he will be a productive player as he approaches age 38. Offseason surgery on both knees has given him new life this summer, and now the question is whether he will sign another extension withthe Packers or if he will jump to the Minnesota Vikings in 2013 to play a few more seasons with quarterback Brett Favre.
SARCASM ALERT! CALM DOWN. NO SUCH QUESTION EXISTS.
Actually, Driver said: "Now I'm going to retire as a Packer, and that's something I've dreamed of for a long time."
Not that it was much of a question beforehand, but it should be noted that Driver has looked fresh and full of life in the practices I watched after doctors cleaned up both knees. He remains a fixture in the starting lineup, holding off a hard-charging Jordy Nelson, and said "I feel so much better" than in recent summers.
"The aches and pains, you're going to have those just because it's training camp," Driver said. "But outside of that, my knees feel good. I've been playing well, and that's what you want. You want to just be able to play at a high level."
Driver has said he wants to play until he is 40, but even he laughed about that hope on Friday. After all, getting to 38 would be an awfully nice accomplishment in itself.
"If the Lord tells me at 38 when my contract is up to keep playing, then I will," Driver said. "But if not, I'll retire. And I'll be happy about it."
The Driver news provided a surprise ending to our second day in Packers camp. Let's move on to some practice observations and notes:
Friday marked the Packers' first kickoff return installation period. Let's just say some players had a difficult time holding on to the ball. Many of you have asked about undrafted rookie Sam Shields. While I continue to be intrigued by his speed, I can't see how he could possibly be a viable candidate at this point. I counted two more drops Friday. He also dropped a potential interception during 1-on-1 drills, but he does appear to have decent instincts as a cornerback. If I had to guess, I would say Nelson and Tramon Williams are the top candidates for the role -- subject to change, of course.
Williams made a nice deflection of a deep ball intended for Driver, which reminded me to ask coach Mike McCarthy about veteran cornerback Al Harris during the time McCarthy afforded me after practice. Harris (knee) remains on the physically-unable-to-perform list, and while McCarthy said Harris is eager to begin practicing, the team is exercising extreme caution. "He wants to go," McCarthy said. "But there's a medical protocol. ... He's made a lot of progress the last three or four weeks. He really has. I just know at the end of our OTAs, that was a big question mark. But he's really come on strong. He's getting close."
I'll have more from McCarthy, as well as from a conversation with quarterback Aaron Rodgers, in my formal Packers Camp Confidential and other future posts. The Camp Confidential is scheduled to post Monday. Mark your calendars.
Linebacker Brady Poppinga didn't practice after suffering a concussion Friday night, and it was interesting to note the Packers are continuing to work utility man Brandon Chillar as the first-team right outside linebacker. Chillar appears to be ahead of second-year player Brad Jones at this point, while Clay Matthews has been working on the left side. There is something to be said for saving Chillar to play multiple roles, but if he is one of their two best outside linebackers, then he needs to be there on every down.
A growing medical list has left McCarthy re-thinking his plans for Saturday night's annual Family Night scrimmage. It's possible he'll have to pull back on live contact and general drill work to avoid taxing the players who are healthy.